This hurts. Everything I am about to write is wrong, but sometimes the truth hits you hard and you have to accept things you can’t change.
I do apologise in advance if this isn’t my finest piece, as I am writing this with clenched fists and a slightly cold sweat.
It’s over. Liverpool are winning the English Premier League in 2019-20.
As a Manchester United fan since I saw highlights of a 6-1 demolition of Sheffield Wednesday as a seven-year-old, I’ve had over two decades to revel in the Reds inability to lift the trophy. It’s been glorious. I have watched the Steven Gerrard slip in 2014 far too many times. I sometimes go out of my way to share it with people who haven’t seen it in a little while.
“Oh! And Gerrard slipped, and Demba Ba is in here”. Closes eyes, remembers the good times.
Also, as a United fan I understand what I am doing here is wrong. It’s sacrilegious. I’m breaking the code. There’s nothing I can do, though. This is our sad new world. I have to acknowledge what’s happening despite how blasphemous it is.
I’ve been watching this year’s EPL covering one eye for self-preservation, and even then I’ve seen enough. As I sit here fresh off a 2-0 loss to Liverpool in which United looked comprehensively outclassed, the Reds’ most recent performance has finally confirmed what I have been ignoring all year.
While this result has obviously been a foregone conclusion for some time, I’ve spent the last three months under the trance of the Ostrich effect: burying my head in the sand to avoid the reality around me. I can’t anymore.
It hurts, but Liverpool are going to La La Land.
Currently sitting 16 points and game clear of Manchester City with 16 fixtures to go, the Reds are basically just deciding where to put the trophy at Anfield. Despite an inner urge, I am not going to buy into talk the wheels might fall off, not at this point. Jurgen Klopp’s men are firmly in control, and it would be an unimaginable calamity if they somehow let go of the ironclad grip they firmly have on the sterling silver and malachite trophy destined for their cabinet.
We could start looking at the fixture and potential danger games based around cramped schedules and weary legs, but it’s reaching. Really reaching.
The records under threat as the juggernaut rolls on say pretty much all you need to know. Most wins in a season. Most points in a season. Even equalling the ‘Invincibles’ with fewest losses is more likely then I want it to be. I am trying to come to terms with the fact I might not get to see Liverpool lose a Premier League game this year. It’s hard.
After 22 Premier League games the 2003-04 Arsenal’s Invincibles had 52 points. Manchester City’s 2017-18 Centurions had 62 points. Liverpool of 2019-20 have 64. Both those sides above coasted in, winning the league by 11 points and 19 points respectively. We’ve seen this movie before and we know how it finishes.
Many times this year it looked like it wasn’t going to be Liverpool’s day. But just like May last year, when Barcelona came to Anfield with a seemingly insurmountable lead, the Reds have found a way. And they’ve done it over and over again.
The James Milner penalty against Leicester, the come-from-behind win over Tottenham, the two goals in seven minutes to get past Aston Villa – they just keep finding a way. It’s been devastating. Its feels like a Fergie time sequel but it’s a horror movie this time and none of my favourite actors are in it.
I had hopes the bursting schedule would undo them at some point, and it still can in some respect. However, despite the excessive number of games, Liverpool have just swept through the season with relative ease, picking up the Club World Cup as an early Christmas present.
There is also no point arguing against this reality either. Virgil van Dijk is really good. I don’t want to like him, because he plays for Liverpool, but I do. Like having a crush on your friend’s new partner, I am watching from afar knowing it’s wrong but seemingly drawn in despite the treachery.
Undoubtedly one of the best defenders in the world, Van Dijk is pretty much how I want all my scouted defender teenagers in FIFA manager mode to end up: strong, imposing and rarely out of position. Despite these brutish qualities Van Dijk also appears graceful and in control as he sets the side in motion with flawless technical ability.
There was the outrageously uncharacteristic error against Napoli back on Match Day 1 of this year’s Champions League, but if that’s our counterargument to his greatness, we are clutching at straws. Virgil has won 75 per cent of his duels in the EPL so far this year and over 75 per cent of his aerial battles and has committed no errors leading to goals while heading home four of his own. The body of work speaks for itself.
I am probably a victim of recency bias here, but Virgil van Dijk is likely the best centre back I have seen. The Sergio Ramos who continually scored timely Champions League goals for fun is right there, but I am seeing Van Dijk right now and he is very, very good.
Sadio Mane is the type of low-risk, high-reward purchase that makes this whole grim situation possible. Purchased for €41 million (A$66.2 million) from Southampton back in 2016, the move made Mane at the time the most expensive African player in history.
I say it’s low risk due to the combination of Mane’s proven quality and some of the other transfers of that year illustrating the warped market at the time. Oscar joined Shanghai SIPG for €60 million (A$97 million), Granit Xhaka cost €45 million (A$72 million), Tottenham paid €35 million (A$56 million) for Moussa Sissoko and United brought in Henrikh Mkhitaryan for €42 million (A$68 million). The Mane purchase seemed shrewd business at the time both in context and out of it.
If Southampton could have resisted selling anyone of note to Liverpool from 2014 to 2018, we wouldn’t be in this sickening position and neither would Southampton, but I digress.
Truly world-class performances up front for this sort of outlay has been game-changing business. Mane’s intensity, power, electricity, speed and just general brilliance has made him a Premier League Golden Boot winner and African footballer of the year and handed him a fourth-place finish in the 2019 Ballon d’Or. Eleven goals and six assists so far this season, he has been outstanding and on pace to statistically eclipse his superb 2018-19 efforts. Danny Blind said recently, “Sadio Mane is the new Ronaldo in world football”. That pretty much says it all regarding where Mane is at.
I did subjectively think the Sadio Mane transfer was good business, but I actually thought the opposite of Mohamed Salah. I was even a bit chuffed thinking I was watching Liverpool invest heavily – €42 million (A$68 million) rising to €50 million (A$80 million) conditions permitting – in a slightly above average commodity. It felt a little Andy Carroll 2.0.
I was grinning. But I was very wrong.
I had seen Salah struggle with Chelsea from 2014-16 and admittedly saw little of his work in Italy. The next time I saw him he was worth every penny. Fast-forward a few years and 65 goals later and Mo Salah is everything I thought he wasn’t. A dual Golden Boot winner and an all-time leader for a 38-game season with 32 in 2017-18, Mo is simply superb in front of goal.
I am not going to get bogged down in the stats for Salah. He has scored some truly disgusting goals that say it all. If you’re not sure where to look, check out his rocket against Chelsea in April last year. His flashes of brilliance are otherworldly. I just watched it again. Outrageous.
Along with Mane and Salah, Roberto Firmino is the final piece in what has become a revered front three. The days of the fab four seem a distant memory, as these three continually light the match that ignites the Reds. The combination of skill, pace, creativity and goal-scoring prowess means these three often scythe through defences with narrow, quick and instinct-fuelled football. I hate it and I love it.
In 2018 Liverpool become this first ream in history to have three players score ten-plus goals in a single Champions League season. Salah, Mane and Firmino really are trouble.
I was originally looking to go pretty deep on Jurgen Klopp. He is a fascinating man and a brilliant manager. From his early days at Mainz 2005 to Gegenpressing, from his Champions League failures to his rise at Liverpool, there is much to discuss. I’ve decided this isn’t the place. I feel the story of Jurgen Klopp is only just beginning. For now its Liverpool’s moment.
I could really just keep going here. Alisson Becker, Trent Alexander-Arnold, a deeper look at Roberto Firmino et cetera. It’s a long list of success stories, each almost more admirable than the last. I guess everything is a bit more pretty when you’re three months away from ending a 30-year drought.
Mathematically Liverpool need 30 points to win the title. Realistically they don’t even need that. The ‘points to win’ number will slowly slip down as the Reds keep winning and everyone keeps stuttering.
For a long time 2014 gave me hope that lingered in the back of my mind that everyone can slip over. However, this is not 2014. There is no Martin Skrtel, Daniel Sturridge or Simon Mignolet in goal. Liverpool of 2020 have a first XI inundated with world-class talent producing world-class performances.
Manchester City broke my heart in 2012 – that Sergio Aguero goal the ultimate paradox to the Gerrard slip. However, despite all of Man City’s recent success, I am still able to take pot shots regarding their plastic nature, fake fans and pitiful history. It’s an easy target and one I aim at when required. Liverpool don’t have such a glaring weak spot except that they never win the Premier League. I am about to lose that ammo.
I first entered La La Land back in 2007. United won the treble in 1999 and countless titles either side of the turn of the century, but in my pre-pubescent years I wasn’t plugged in enough to realise the magnitude of those moments. I had to wait until the perfect blend of old and new allowed a side that included Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney to roll through the season and give the great Alex Ferguson his ninth title. It was everything I thought it would be.
This year 30 years worth of Liverpool fans are about to enter La La Land like me in 2007. There is nothing else I can do. I’m tipping my hat. Liverpool of 2019-20 have been great.
So enjoy it, because I hope it never happens again. In the meantime I’ll be over here googling “Gerrard slip” and remembering how life used to be.