Liverpool vs Man City : Through skill or luck, Jurgen Klopp must try bridge the gap againThe difference was only one point, or was it? A narrative took hold during the back end of last season that the highest-calibre Premier League.title race of recent years was being contested by a relentless, all-conquering juggernaut and another team who, though excellent, were clinging to their rivals’ coat-tails.
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The unforgiving standard set by Manchester City’s extraordinary 14-game winning run from January onwards and the dramatic nature of some of Liverpool’s late-season wins supported this theory, even if several of City’s last few victories were more tense than Pep Guardiola would have liked.
Others went further, suggesting that Jurgen Klopp’s side were ‘lucky’ to be as close to City as they were. There was Hugo Lloris’ late spill at Anfield. Sergio Rico’s strange foul on Sadio Mané at Craven Cottage. Mané’s contentious goal at the London Stadium. Mohamed Salah’s relationship with gravity came under the microscope. And before all of these, there was Divock Origi’s bizarre Merseyside derby winner.
More easily forgotten is City’s decisive, contentiously-awarded penalty in a un-televised 1-0 win over West Ham in late February, won by Bernardo Silva’s unconvincing tumble. Raheem Sterling found a second-half breakthrough against Watford a few weeks later after receiving the ball in an offside position. Vincent Kompany’s one-in-fifty strike against Leicester City is better remembered, as are the 29.5mm which meant Sergio Aguero scored against Burnley and the 11.7mm which meant Liverpool had not at the Etihad.
But before anyone brings up Wily Boly’s handball equaliser at Molineux or Kevin De Bruyne’s 156 days out injured, all these incidents are not highlighted to suggest that City are undeserving champions or vice versa. The point is that any attempt to quantify either team’s ‘luck’ is an exhausting, futile, tit-for-tat exercise which could last until next May if done properly.
And then, even if it were shown that Liverpool were lucky to run City so close, every fortuitous bounce of the ball, fractional goalkeeping fumble or generous refereeing decision would not cancel out the misfortune of posting the third-highest points total in Premier League history only to be beaten by the second. That is the only relevant point to make about ‘luck’ before Sunday’s Community Shield meeting between the two clubs and ahead of a new top-flight campaign.
Did last season represent their best chance of ending their wait for a domestic league title, which will now stretch into its 30th year? Will that opportunity come again? That has to be the concern at Anfield ahead of the traditional curtain-raiser, as there is reason to believe that the margins between the best Liverpool side of the Premier League era and the best Premier League-era side full stop will not be as close.
For starters, Liverpool’s Champions League triumph makes a 67-game season a possibility. Starting at Wembley today, Klopp’s side embark on a campaign that could average a game every four-and-a-half days. The Club World Cup, scheduled for Qatar in mid-December, could be particularly awkward. How will a squad that effectively had a clear run at the Premier League and Champions League alone cope?