Liverpool are back on their perch. 30 years of hurt finally came to an end last Thursday night as Chelsea beat Manchester City 2-1 to give the Reds what could be their first of many Premier League titles.
There was the feeling that, having come within just a point of winning the title last season, winning the Champions League final might be the important next step for the club to bring back the prize that the whole club and the red half of the city have been craving for so long. Now that that has been delivered, there is no doubt a burden has been lifted, a mental barrier broken, and it could be the first of many.
When Sir Alex Ferguson led Manchester United to title glory in 1992/93, it was the end of a similarly long drought – 26 years – and the start of an incredible period of dominance that would yield a further 12 titles over the next 20 years. Once you get the taste for winning, it’s easier to keep on going.
In truth, it’s going to be hard for any team to dominate quite like that United team did for so long, but Liverpool look in a seriously good position to embark on something similar now, both at home and in Europe.
Ferguson had to contend with some strong competition such as Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal and Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, but it could be argued he never had anything quite like Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City breathing down his neck.
Remember that Liverpool achieved their highest ever points total, and indeed one of the highest ever seen in the Premier League, last season, but still finished just a point off City, with their one defeat all season at the Etihad Stadium proving crucial.
The threat of City will still be there, but Liverpool can take some comfort from the fact that the quality of Guardiola’s side has forced Jurgen Klopp and co. to raise their own standards even higher. They have already won the title in record time this season with an unprecedented seven games to spare, and remain on course for a record points total if they don’t take their foot off the gas.
One big issue looming at the Etihad, however, is City’s potential Champions League ban. Guardiola doesn’t tend to stick around in his jobs for too long anyway and if MCFC find themselves out of Europe, things could spiral downwards pretty quickly. The loss of Vincent Kompany has been felt this season, and David Silva will be next to follow, while it might not be too long before they also face the unenviable task of replacing Sergio Aguero.
This does not, on the face of it, leave Liverpool with any other particularly worrying competition; Chelsea perhaps look set to be stronger after exciting deals for Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech, but remain a youthful side with an inexperienced manager who will surely need more time to build something like the Chelsea of old; at Manchester United, the jury is still out on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s playing style, even if there are promising young players coming through and some recent improvement in the transfer market.
Meanwhile, Tottenham have gone majorly downhill after a joyous period under Mauricio Pochettino, and Arsenal are nowhere to be seen as a competitor even for a top four spot. Leicester City and Wolves are ever-improving sides, but are surely still a long way off seriously joining the elite. Liverpool have been miles better than the rest this season and there’s a very good chance that won’t be changing any time soon.
If things look comfortable domestically, there are promising signs in Europe as well; Barcelona and Real Madrid are currently engaging in an underwhelming title race in La Liga, with it basically looking like going down to who can make the fewest mistakes between now and the end of the season.
In stark contrast to Liverpool, Barca’s recent recruitment has been woeful, with huge amounts spent on flops like Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele and Frenkie de Jong, who have not really fit in at all, and, of course, that big investment in Philippe Coutinho that allowed LFC to make signings like Virgil van Dijk and Alisson that saw them past their Catalan opponents on their way to European glory last season. All of this is far from ideal when the club also have the likes of Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique, Luis Suarez and Sergio Busquets ageing, with no sign of much of a new golden generation coming through their La Masia academy either.
It’s a similar story at Real Madrid, with Zinedine Zidane’s side staring Champions League elimination in the face ahead of the competition’s return this summer, with the post-Cristiano Ronaldo period looking likely to mean that run of four titles in five seasons won’t be repeated any time soon. As well as failing to replace Ronaldo, Los Blancos now also have key figures like Sergio Ramos, Karim Benzema, Luka Modric and Gareth Bale ageing and past their peak too, with a major overhaul needed at the Bernabeu.
Atletico Madrid may have dumped Liverpool out of the Champions League this season, but are also not the side they once were under Diego Simeone, and other big names of European football such as AC Milan and Inter Milan are also majorly faded forces.
It’s never this simple, but on paper the stage really looks set for Liverpool to dominate at home and in Europe for the next few years, with everyone playing catch-up just as their stars approach their peak and get the much-needed taste for success, which they’ll hope will feed through to their highly promising generation of young players also coming through.
For those dubbing the new champions ‘The Unbearables’, get ready for a lot more where that came from!