Liverpool’s defeat to Arsenal last night represented yet another blow to this team’s quest for greatness, with another potential unique selling point of this title victory chipped away.
Despite looking for so much of this season like one of the greatest Premier League teams ever, and indeed winning the title with a record-breaking seven games to spare, there’s the sense now that the Reds have not quite achieved a place in footballing folklore as they might have done.
On the 17th of December, the quadruple dream ended with defeat in the Carabao Cup; on the 29th of February, defeat at Watford ensured Arsenal remain the only Invincibles of the modern era; on the 3rd of March, defeat to Chelsea in the FA Cup meant the treble had to be scratched off the list; eight days later Atletico Madrid’s surprise win at Anfield prevented a title and Champions League double; and now, Liverpool can no longer mathematically break Manchester City’s record for 100 Premier League points.
Luckily for those who care about these things, Liverpool can add one more record to the list before the campaign comes to a close – a record points margin is still in sight if they can win their final two matches and City drop points. Pep Guardiola’s side hold the record with a 19-point margin when they won the league in 2017/18, with Jurgen Klopp’s men currently 18 points clear at the top.
Still, while the debate about the very greatest sides necessitates picking apart the finer details of their glory, it does seem like football is heading in a worrying direction of this is a conversation we’re going to be having every year.
The very fact that the same super clubs dominate in ways that they never did before now means that winning on its own is no longer enough – fans crave something to make their success stand out, whether it’s a treble, an unbeaten season or a record points total.
Thankfully in England, we’re not quite yet in that territory as, of course, the fact that Liverpool have won their first league title in 30 years this season is enough of a story in itself, and we had the Leicester City miracle of 2015/16, but in general the same clubs tend to dominate the top four spots and the domestic trophy wins; in the last twenty years of the FA Cup, once lauded for its ‘magic’, the final has been won by one of Manchester United, City, Chelsea, Arsenal or Liverpool on all but just two occasions, with one of those teams also being the runner up on eight occasions. It’s a similar story in the League Cup, which, paradoxically, has never been particularly highly valued by the biggest clubs, but as such has almost grown in importance as part of the collection, as part of a ‘domestic treble’ because winning a league title on its own is no longer exciting enough.
This is even more true in other leagues: Bayern Munich have just won their eighth Bundesliga title in a row, something that had never been done before, with four different teams winning the eight titles prior to that; in Serie A, Juventus are probably going to make it nine titles in a row this term. When winning what was once considered the most difficult and impressive trophy become so routine, it’s little wonder it no longer feels that satisfying.
It’s telling that there was never really any talk of points totals, winning streaks or unbeaten runs until the super club era really took off in the last decade or so.
This interaction between Jamie Carragher and Roy Keane earlier this season sums up how much the conversation has changed.
When Carragher talks about this Liverpool team finishing on more points than United’s treble winners, Keane responds: “Let’s not go down that road. That’s ridiculous. You talk about points, but the bottom line is that when you win the trophy, you get one medal. You don’t turn the medal over and it tells you how many points you won the league by.”
It feels like this Liverpool team deserves to go down as one of the greats, and it might still take one more record to cement that, but fans should relish this team’s success regardless, or we’re perhaps all guilty of feeding a footballing culture that could soon suck all the joy out of the game.