It has been a record-breaking start to the season for Liverpool, with Jurgen Klopp’s team sitting eight points clear at the top of the Premier League after winning all eight league games so far this campaign.
Another victory against Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday would be Liverpool’s 18th consecutive league win, equalling the Premier League record set by Manchester City in 2017-18.
The Champions League winners are showing the kind of form that suggests they could go through the season unbeaten and emulate Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal Invincibles of 2003-04, but can Liverpool maintain it for the whole campaign?
Injuries, loss of form and bad luck could all conspire to derail Liverpool’s bid to win the title for the first time since 1990, but the Reds have already beaten Arsenal and Chelsea this season and wins against United and Tottenham in their next two games would keep them well clear of the pack before they meet champions City at Anfield next month.
So are we about to witness history being made by Liverpool? Or are there problems lurking around the corner?
WHY THEY COULD REMAIN UNBEATEN
Liverpool’s transfer committee and Klopp have spent plenty of money to get the most exciting and fearsome team seen at Anfield since the late-1980s, when the club were as dominant as Manchester United became during the 1990s.
Alisson is arguably the world’s best goalkeeper, but during the Brazilian’s injury-enforced absence, back-up stopper Adrian has been rock solid during Liverpool’s winning run.
The Klopp factor
Football teams reflect the personality of their manager and Klopp has built Liverpool in his own image.
The so-called “Heavy Metal football” he inspired at Borussia Dortmund — intense, exciting, ‘in your face’ football — has been replicated at Anfield, but the joy and passion that the German manager exerts from the touchline helps explain why Liverpool play at such a high tempo.
Klopp has tapped into the vast Liverpool fanbase and forged an incredible bond between the supporters and the team. This unity was a key factor in last season’s Champions League triumph — just ask Barcelona about how they coped against that unified front in last season’s incredible 4-0 semifinal defeat at Anfield.
Tactically, Klopp has also proved his status as a world-class coach by making Liverpool a force in England and Europe. He is the architect of this impressive side.
If Liverpool are to remain unbeaten in the league, they will have to negotiate plenty of tough away games, but their record at Anfield will give them the strength to travel without fear. The club have not lost a Premier League game at Anfield since a 2-1 defeat to Crystal Palace in April 2017 and they appear to be developing into an even more formidable force at home as the weeks go by.
No Premier League stadium provides as much noise and support for the home team as Anfield and it is a huge asset in their favour. If they maintain their home form, then Liverpool will not have to chase victories away from Anfield, which only makes them harder to beat.
The Premier League might still be regarded by many as the most exciting league in the world, but it is debatable whether it is the strongest and recent seasons have pointed towards an increasing gulf between the so-called “Big Six” and the rest.
Are the “other 14” capable of beating Liverpool? Well, Klopp’s team lost just once in the league last season and that defeat came against champions Manchester City. In fact, you have to go back to January 2018 or the last time that they were defeated by a team outside the “Big Six”: away at Swansea.
Liverpool have already beaten Chelsea and Arsenal this term and they face a struggling United and out-of-form Spurs next. City are always a threat and the game against their title rivals in the second half of the season will be difficult, but on paper there are few potential defeats on the horizon.
When Arsenal became the Invincibles in 2003-04, they had luck along the way — most memorably when Ruud van Nistelrooy missed a last minute penalty for Manchester United in a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford early in the season.
This campaign, Liverpool have won some games — notably against Sheffield United and Leicester — thanks to good fortune in the form of opposition mistakes or refereeing decisions, while they may yet salvage a draw from the jaws of defeat in the same way. Last season’s Luck Index showed that Liverpool were the unluckiest team in the league though that’s more than evened out so far in 2019-20.
The dice can roll the other way, of course, but winning teams tend to push harder and take greater risks than struggling sides, so if fortune does favour the brave, they will have earned it.
WHY THEY WON’T GO UNDEFEATED
Historically, Liverpool have lost 80 of their 202 meetings with Manchester United and won just 66, so the difficulty of Sunday’s trip to Old Trafford cannot be overstated, despite the dismal recent run of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team.
Some games are always going to pose problems whatever the state of the teams. The fixtures against United, for reasons of long-standing rivalry, and Manchester City, because of their status as the reigning champions, could see Liverpool lose, while they still have to travel to Arsenal and Tottenham.
A derby is always tough and though Everton haven’t won at Anfield this century, or beaten their bitter rivals at Goodison Park since October 2010, that run will end at some point.
Back in March 1988, Liverpool travelled to Goodison needing to avoid defeat to become the first team go 30 league games unbeaten since the start of a season, but Everton won 1-0. That result is proof that a determined rival can overcome even the best teams.
Lack of depth
Injuries can trigger the downfall of any team and Liverpool have, either by good preparation, luck, or both, avoided long-term injuries to key players in recent seasons.
Goalkeeper Alisson has been sidelined since the first game of this season with a calf injury, but Liverpool have shrugged off his absence thanks to the form of understudy Adrian. However, things could be different if Van Dijk was ruled out for a period of time, or full-backs Robertson and Alexander-Arnold, while the thought of Salah, Mane or Firmino sidelined would give Klopp nightmares. (Firmino, in particular, knits the forward play together and embodies Klopp’s high-energy style.)
There are still capable squad players like Joe Gomez, Xherdan Shaqiri and Divock Origi to plug the gaps, and Liverpool may not even need to do so if their luck remains, but the lack of cover for their top stars could ultimately cost Klopp’s team.
Of course, injuries aren’t unique to the league leaders. If anything, their eight-point lead atop the table owes plenty to Manchester City’s lack of depth at centre-back. This season, Manchester City have been without defenders Aymeric Laporte and John Stones due to long-term injuries and are understandbly struggling defensively. The same could yet happen to Liverpool.
Scars of failure
Liverpool have not been crowned champions of England since 1990 and they have fallen short on numerous occasions since then.
Steven Gerrard‘s slip against Chelsea in 2014 triggered a title collapse under Brendan Rodgers, while Klopp’s team lost just once last season and it still wasn’t enough to beat City to the title. Liverpool’s players will have to overcome those negative memories, and the intense pressure of a fanbase that’s been waiting since the 1980s for a league title, if they’re to win it all this season.
If they get close in March, April and May, the pressure to end the 30-year wait will grow and it will either propel them to glory or prompt uncharacteristic mistakes that could lead to defeat. Liverpool have plenty of scars from recent history and it would be naive to think that they will not be reminded of them during the run-in.
An unexpected result
While the lack of competition, as mentioned above, has become a worrying trend for the Premier League, the flip side is that there are still surprise results that defy all logic.
Nobody could have anticipated City’s 3-2 defeat at Norwich last month, or their 2-0 loss at home to Wolves last time out, and Pep Guardiola’s team were also stunned at home by Crystal Palace last season.
In recent years, shock results have led to teams losing the title. Manchester United lost at Wigan in April 2012 having never even dropped a point against them in previous meetings and Man City went on to pip them to the trophy on goal difference.
But while the gap between the best and the rest is growing, City’s early season defeats should serve as a warning to Liverpool that a bad performance can lead to a surprise defeat.
Loss of form
Losing their form or confidence looks to be the least of Liverpool’s concerns right now. They are flying high at the top of the table, yet to drop a point and have built such a lead that they have a cushion to soften the blow of any unexpected slip.
But these things do not last forever and can be affected by a number of different issues — injuries, poor decisions by officials, selection mistakes by the coach — and Liverpool may yet hit a sticky patch which enables City to close the gap.
With three points for a win, even a run of three successive draws by Liverpool would open the door for City, so maintaining their form will be crucial.
Going unbeaten through a league season is no mean feat and only Arsenal have done it in the modern era. Sir Alex Ferguson’s great Man United sides, Jose Mourinho’s formidable Chelsea teams and Pep Guardiola’s majestic Man City have all tried and failed, so it would be an immense achievement if Liverpool pull it off.
Right now, Klopp’s men look on course to win the club a first title since 1989-90 but becoming the new Invincibles is a different matter. Liverpool are a great team, one of the most exciting of the Premier League era, but while they will surely end their long wait for the title, they will suffer at least one defeat along the way.