On the face of it, it seems a little harsh to suggest that Liverpool’s title charge is beginning to falter. After all, the Reds have lost just once all season, with their sole reversal coming in a tense 2-1 defeat to title rivals Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium back in January.
It takes more than simply avoiding defeat to win a Premier League title, however, with a litany of previous campaigns having been undermined by risk-averse draws and an ever-dwindling number of goals.
So, if the Reds are to land their inaugural EPL title and first top-flight championship in 20 years, they need to rediscover their sense of adventure and start winning on the road. But can they achieve this, and what steps can they take to deliver the title win that their fans crave?
Learning from History and Failed Campaigns
Prior to Brendan Rodgers’ wild and goal-laden title tilt five years ago, Liverpool came desperately close to landing the EPL crown during the tenure of Rafa Benitez in 2009.
Ultimately, the Reds finished four points behind eventual winners Manchester United, but the final league table does not tell the full story of how the title race unfolded.
Liverpool won 10 of their last 11 league outings that season, for example, including a stunning 4-1 win at Old Trafford that cut United’s lead at the top from seven to four points. They also plundered 34 goals during this run, and incredibly went the entire season unbeaten at Anfield.
Also, they only lost two league games all season, which was two less than their bitter north west rivals (who also scored nine less goals than Liverpool overall).
However, the most telling statistic here is the fact that Liverpool drew five more games than the Red Devils, with the 10 point swing here ultimately proving decisive in the final outcome.
Goalless draws at Aston Villa and Stoke City were particularly damning, as Rafa Benitez’ innate sense of caution and desire not to lose prevented his charges from taking the title race by the scruff of the neck.
In contrast, United manager Sir Alex Ferguson had grown to understand the importance of prevailing tight league matches in a system that awards three points for a win , with his sides often compelled to risk losing games in some instances in the quest to earn a crucial victory.
He had learned this lesson relatively early in his Manchester United tenure too, after his side blew their league title challenge in 1991/92 after a poor run of form during the second half of the season.
In fact, United drew nine of their last 21 league matches from New Years’ Day on, scoring just 21 goals and winning a paltry 30 points as Leeds eventually took the title by a comfortable five-point margin.
This sequence was characterised by self-doubt and caution (particularly on the road), which crippled the side’s attacking flair and potency in front of goal.
Can Liverpool Reverse their Fortunes on the Road?
There are significant parallels to consider here, both in terms of Liverpool’s faltering title challenge and the sheer length of time that the Reds have gone without winning a league title.
United had gone 25 years without winning a top-flight championship in 1992, for example, and it’s obvious that the weight of expectation began to weigh heavily on the players during the second half of the 1991/92 campaign. The same can arguably be said for Liverpool, who are closing in on three decades without a title and struggling to cope with the growing tension that exists among supporters.
This is manifesting itself in the side’s away form, with the Reds having won just one of their last five away games in 2019 and failed to score in their 248 minutes of action away from Anfield.
In fact, they’ve only scored three goals in total on the road since New Years’ Day, while successive goalless draws at Old Trafford and Goodison Park have seen manager Jurgen Klopp increasingly unwilling to take risks in pursuit of a much-needed three points.
History tells us that this type of approach is deceptively dangerous, particularly when managers are blinded by an apparently consistent away record and a paucity of defeats.
After all, research completed by Free Super Tips reveals that Liverpool fans have enjoyed the most successful away days during the course of the 2018/19 season. The study, which revealed how many miles each EPL side’s fanbase has travelled on the road to watch their side lose, showed that Liverpool supporters traversed just 36 miles to see their side’s sole 2-1 defeat at the Etihad Stadium at the turn of the year.
This should not distract from the fact that Liverpool have dropped nine points from a potential 15 on the road in 2019, while looking increasingly unlikely to score or dominate their opponents. This is something that Liverpool need to tackle now, particularly with rivals Manchester City relentless in their approach and enjoying a rich vein of form.
So how should the Reds approach this challenge? Well, a quick glance at the fixture list shows that they have just four away games left between now and the end of the season, with all of their scheduled opponents sitting among the bottom seven clubs in the table.
While Fulham, Southampton, Cardiff and Newcastle will be committed and combative opponents, these games provide a chance for Liverpool to impose their natural style of play and command possession of the ball.
Using this is a foundation, Klopp must then empower his men to play with far greater freedom and adventure than they have of late, while ensuring that his potent front three receive a constant supply of service from midfield.
To achieve this, the charismatic German must also be bold in his team selection and substitutions, with players like Xherdan Shaqiri and Daniel Sturridge noticeably underused of late despite their individual creativity and ability to win games.
Ultimately, Klopp (who is one of the few title winners in Liverpool’s ranks) must also learn to take calculated risks in tight matches and aggressively pursue victories, or risk losing further ground to Pep Guardiola’s experienced and incredibly consistent side.
Otherwise, he’ll risk seeing his title ambitions ground into dust by their stampeding rivals, who have already overhauled a 10-point deficit to lead the table by a single point.