After stretching their lead at the top of the Premier League to eight points, and nine points ahead of pre-season title favourites Man City, opinion was split amongst footballing pundits on whether or not the title is already over.
Despite two-thirds of the season remaining, there’s plenty of reasons why fans and pundits alike would consider Liverpool to have one hand on the trophy, with strong arguments that can support such a view.
But in a sport which can deliver the most unpredictable of outcomes, nothing is won until it’s absolutely certain, and there is more than enough time for the situation to change.
Liverpool’s current lead at the top has rarely been matched at this point in the season, but it wouldn’t require an unprecedented collapse to deny them a league title win.
After 12 games of the 1993/4 season, Man United’s defence of the Premier League title was looking in good shape, with a nine point gap between them and the closest challengers, Norwich and Arsenal. United went on to win the title by a comfortable margin, as did Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Man City in 2017/18, having established an early season lead of eight points over Jose Mourinho’s Man United after a dozen games played.
And although it’s not uncommon for the team in first place at this point of the season to miss out on landing the title, it doesn’t usually involve surrendering such a big lead. Newcastle did famously throw away a significant advantage during the 1995/6 season, although that collapse occurred during the club’s first serious title challenge for almost 70 years.
More recently, Man City recovered from a position involving an eight point deficit to local rivals Man United with less than five weeks of the season remaining and both clubs having only six matches to play. The drama of Sergio Aguero’s injury time winner in the last game of the season to secure the title on goal difference will forever be among the most dramatic moments in English top flight history.
While Man City have demonstrated an incredible degree of consistency over the past two seasons, setting a number of top flight records in the process, Liverpool have also shown a capability of performing at an incredibly high level over an entire campaign.
There’s no reason to suggest that Liverpool will suddenly begin dropping points on a frequent basis, and even if that was to be the case, there are enough signs from Man City’s results and performances this season to suggest that they too will drop more points than during each of the past two seasons, and that winning the league will be possible to achieve with a lower points total.
An area of potential concern for Liverpool is a defence which has struggled to keep clean sheets, and which often looks vulnerable to conceding even in games that the Reds are dominating.
But despite conceding in all but 3 of their 20 matches so far across all competitions, Liverpool’s only defeat of the season so far came away to Napoli – arguably the strongest of their Champions League group opponents.
Jurgen Klopp’s side have also recovered from a losing position on all four occasions in which they have been behind in the Premier League – three of which ended in victory. Even with a defence which isn’t performing as reliably as last year, Liverpool remain incredibly difficult to beat.
It’s true to say that Liverpool have some potentially tricky fixtures coming up, but having played all of last season’s top 6, and also a Leicester team in a strong position for achieving a top four placing, it’s perhaps even more remarkable that the Reds are in such a commanding position.
In contrast, seven of Man City’s eight fixtures before New Year are against teams in the top half, including games against Chelsea, Arsenal, Leicester and Man United.
It’s possible that City will win all of those games, when taking into account the quality within the squad and the possibility of playing with nothing to lose, given the deficit that they have to make up. But having found themselves so far behind in the first place, Guardiola and his players would undoubtedly rather see Liverpool facing such a potentially challenging series of games.
In reaching the Champions League final in each of the last two seasons, while also achieving – or surpassing – their expectations in the league, Liverpool have also demonstrated their ability to be successful across multiple competitions.
However, the demands of first team players will be even greater this season, with the FIFA Club World Cup resulting in one Premier League fixture having to be rescheduled, and a Carabao Cup quarter final match arranged for the same time as the senior squad are set to compete in Qatar.
If Liverpool were to progress to the semi final of the Carabao Cup, and/or enjoy a lengthy run in the FA Cup, a congested fixture list could become a big problem in the latter stages of the season, increasing the potential for injuries and having a damaging knock-on effect on the club’s league results.
And so, as top flight clubs return from a weekend off due to the November international matches, it would take some bravery to back against Liverpool securing a first title since 1990. Though with 26 games to play, and with one of the best teams in English football history among those in the chasing pack, it remains a little too early to consider it a foregone conclusion that Liverpool will be crowned as the eventual winners.