As the English Premier League picks back up this week, Liverpool is on the verge of winning its first English soccer championship in 30 years and its first Premier League title ever. If Manchester City loses to Arsenal on Wednesday, Liverpool can wrap up its long-awaited Premier League title with a derby win against Merseyside rivals Everton on June 21.
Before the coronavirus pandemic put a stop to the season in March, Liverpool had been enjoying the most successful season by points per game in the history of Europe’s top five leagues. Through Matchweek 29, Liverpool had amassed an astounding 82 points — more points than six of the Premier League’s previous 27 champions. Liverpool has won 2.83 points per game, far surpassing those exceptional City teams of the very recent past. If it keeps up its current pace, Liverpool will finish with 107 points, smashing Manchester City’s single-season points record of 100.
Although it’s been knocked out of this season’s competition, Liverpool is the current holder of the UEFA Champions League title. The team also holds the FIFA Club World Cup title. Everything certainly has been coming up Liverpool over the course of the past year — so much so that it’s easy to forget the other team firmly entrenched at the top of the table before Liverpool’s ascendence.
When Manchester City won its third Premier League title in 2018, it did so by scoring 106 goals (a top-flight record) and amassing an astonishing and unprecedented 100 points. The Cityzens didn’t manage to finish the campaign unbeaten like the Arsenal “invincibles” of 2003-04 — Liverpool made certain of that, in fact — but their proclivity for shredding record books and writing them anew set a fresh and preposterous standard in the Premier League.
City might not have been invincible in 2017-18, but its title was certainly inevitable. Cross-city rivals Manchester United finished second that season, a whopping 19 points short of the top spot in the table. City’s was the most thorough performance in the history of the English game.
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Not much changed during the following season, at least for City. It scored 95 goals and amassed 98 points en route to a second consecutive Premier League title. Pep Guardiola’s squad wasn’t quite as dominant as it had been during the previous season: Its expected goal differential, which measures the difference between expected goals scored (xG) and expected goals against (xGA), was +56.4 in 2018-19 compared with +58.3 in 2017-18. But any dip in the Cityzens’ performance was nearly imperceptible. What wasn’t imperceptible, however, was Liverpool’s emergence as a legitimate title challenger.
Before the 2018-19 season, Jürgen Klopp’s reign as Liverpool manager had been defined by inconsistent brilliance. The Reds made a remarkable run to the Champions League final in 2017-18 but also finished 25 points behind City in the Premier League table. Klopp’s Liverpool was an adequate heavyweight with a puncher’s chance, but it hadn’t yet landed an iconic blow. Sure, it denied City domestic invincibility and European glory in 2017-18, but it had gathered no silverware of its own. Moral victories don’t fill trophy cases, after all.
When Liverpool did find another gear in the 2018-19 season, City was still right there waiting. Liverpool pushed City to the brink and finished with 97 points — the third-highest tally in the history of the English top flight — but still could not manage to unseat its northwest rivals and win its first title in nearly three decades.
But this season, Liverpool has fulfilled the promise seen over the previous two years. To be clear, Liverpool didn’t really do anything wrong in 2017-18 and 2018-19. In expected goal differential per 90 minutes, the Reds were better during those two seasons than they have been this season. And even though they finished fourth in the table in 2017-18, those expected goal numbers suggested that they were already the second-best team in England.
The Reds lost just six domestic matches combined during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons, but it was draws that did them in — 19 total in that span. That’s all changed this season, though. Through Matchweek 29, Liverpool has drawn just one game, winning 27 of the other 28. Some of those wins were lopsided — such as the 4-0 drubbing of current third-place Leicester City — but others came after it looked as though the Reds would draw. Staving off the draws is why Liverpool is on the verge of breaking City’s all-time single-season points record.
Of course, Klopp might decide to rest all his first-team players and “play the kids” once the title is wrapped up. The team will have nothing left to play for, and it might not want to risk injuries to key players that could limit what it’s able to do next season, which will start quickly1 after this one ends. In that case, Liverpool might not set any records at all. But it will still have its league title — which is what its fans really want.
The final months of the Premier League will offer no shortage of intrigue. There is a tense and tight relegation battle at the bottom of the table and an equally tense and tight battle for European qualification near the top. The very top, however, is already settled. It has been for some time.
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