In recent years, Liverpool have had several seasons in which we pulled off a significant feat and yet ultimately fell short of the main prize.
In Rafa’s second campaign, 2005/6, LFC banked 82 points – one more point than Leicester won the title with last year – and yet it was only good enough for third place.
In 2008/9 under Rafa, we lost just two Premier League games. Really! Just two! And yet our haul of 86 points still was four behind Manchester United even though we did the double over them, including a 4-1 win at Old Trafford.
And, of course, in 2013, a Luis Suarez-inspired Liverpool started the calendar year of 2014 with 14 Premier League wins and two draws in their opening 16 matches to seize control of the title race before the agony of Chelsea at home and Crystal Palace away.
This season – Jurgen Klopp’s first full campaign in charge – we’ve written another impressive chapter. Where it will get us remains to be seen but, as we stop for the international break, let’s laud Liverpool’s achievement of completing this season with an unbeaten record against the other members of the top six.
Five wins, five draws, zero defeats. Goals scored 16, Goals conceded 9.
So what, you may say, it’s all very well excelling in the big games if we can’t beat the rest but I’d much rather it was this way.
Beating, or at least never losing to, the best teams promotes confidence that we could more than hold our own in the Champions League.
It also enhances our reputation in other parts of the globe where so much focus is on the huge head-to-head showdowns. I wonder how many new fans Liverpool have created in Asia, Africa and elsewhere by winning these big games and doing so with such style.
There’s another consideration. Quite simply, if we win, they lose. We’ve directly made Arsenal drop six points, Chelsea, Man City and Spurs five and Man Utd four.
In the battle for Champions League spots, our record in these games could ultimately be the difference maker.
This is how we’ve done it…..
Arsenal 3 Liverpool 4
A goal down and then a joyous burst of four goals in 18 minutes capped by Mane’s screamer. The first time Arsenal had let in four at home in the Premier League since 2009. A brilliant way to start the new season.
Possession: Arsenal 51%, Liverpool 49%. Shots: Arsenal 9, Liverpool 16.
Chelsea 1 Liverpool 2
Dominated from the off and took a deserved 2-0 lead thanks to Lovren’s header and Henderson’s ‘worldie’ before seeing it out well after Diego Costa pulled one back. The first time Antonio Conte had lost a home game in 30 matches. He hasn’t suffered another since.
Possession: Chelsea 53%, Liverpool 47%. Shots: Chelsea 12, Liverpool 13.
Spurs 1 Liverpool 1
Should have been a third straight big away win. They equalised Milner’s penalty with 18 minutes left and Mane had a ‘goal’ controversially chalked off. We were the better team once more.
Possession: Spurs 49%, Liverpool 51%. Shots: Spurs 11, Liverpool 13.
Liverpool 0 Man Utd 0
A hugely frustrating game as Mourinho parked the bus and got the point he came for. That said, the tactic would have failed but for a couple of superb saves from David de Gea. United had their lowest possession since Opta started recording data in 2003/4.
Possession: Liverpool 65%, Man Utd 35%. Shots: Liverpool 9, Man Utd 7
Liverpool 1 Man City 0
Back to winning ways against our main rivals thanks to an early header from Georginio Wijnaldum. City were poor and we kept them at bay with relative ease even though they had more shots. At the time it put us within six of Chelsea and still harbouring outside hopes of the title.
Possession: Liverpool 43%, Man City 57%. Shots: Liverpool 5, Man City 9
Man Utd 1 Liverpool 1
We arrived at Old Trafford in shocking form and this was part of a woeful fun of one win (v Plymouth) in 10 games. And yet, to show just how Klopp always gets it right in big games, we were within six minutes of grabbing another huge scalp before Ibrahimovic nodded in a late equaliser.
Possession: Man Utd 56%, Liverpool 44%. Shots: Man Utd 9, Liverpool 13
Liverpool 1 Chelsea 1
Chelsea had become a winning machine ahead of this one, collecting maximum points in 15 of their previous 16 Premier League games. We’d lost three straight matches against Wolves, Southampton and Swansea but, yet again, we performed impressively against a stellar team. Simon Mignolet’s penalty save helped mind.
Possession: Liverpool 62%, Chelsea 38%. Shots: Liverpool 7, Chelsea 8
Liverpool 2 Spurs 0
A depressing 2-0 loss at Hull the weekend before had made it four defeats out of five but this was back to vintage early-season Liverpool as we swept Spurs away with a display of high energy. They couldn’t handle Mane and Klopp, quite rightly, hailed it as an “outstanding performance”. The in-form visitors conceded more shots on target (8) in the first half than they had since 2003/4.
Possession: Liverpool 51%, Spurs 49%. Shots: Liverpool 17, Spurs 7
Liverpool 3 Arsenal 1
Our first double over Arsenal since 1999/2000 was again fully deserved (look at that shot count!) and came on the back of a 2-0 loss at Leicester which was arguably our low point of the season. Wijnaldum’s late strike was one of the best seen at Anfield this campaign and gave the scoreline a more appropriate look.
Possession: Liverpool 53%, Arsenal 47%. Shots: Liverpool 18, Arsenal 7
Man City 1 Liverpool 1
Of all the 10 games, this is the one where we were hanging on a bit at times. Then again, we were leading with 21 minutes to go and could just have easily won it but for that amazing miss by Lallana. And it shows just how well we do in these matches that a 1-1 draw at City felt a tad disappointing.
Possession: Man City 60%, Liverpool 40%. Shots: Man City 13, Liverpool 13
Liverpool’s unbeaten run against the rest of the top six
4 Sadio Mane
3 Georginio Wijnaldum, James Milner
2 Philippe Coutinho
1 Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Jordan Henderson, Roberto Firmino
Liverpool are second in the possession stats this season with 57.9%. And yet in these 10 games that average fell to 50.5%. We had less of the ball than the opposition in half of the matches and in three of those we ended up winning. Looking ahead, we can’t just let other teams have the ball and say ‘here you go’ but it definitely suits us when we can press and counter-attack. An obvious reason why we’d do well in Europe.
We outshot the opposition in seven of the 10 games and had an equal amount of efforts on goal at Man City. That’s excellent. It gets even more impressive when considering that we had more shots than our big-name hosts in the games at the Etihad, Stamford Bridge, White Hart Lane and Old Trafford. Overall, we had 124 shots to 92, an average of 12.4 to 9.2 so over three more shots per game across the 10 matches.
In conclusion, there was nothing plucky or brave about our results. The final points tally of 20 out of 30 was probably on the lower side on what it might have been given how well we performed.
In all five away games, we had our noses in front with over three quarters of the match gone. That we only went on to win two is disappointing and shows there is still room for improvement. Getting in front at major away grounds is one thing but seeing the job through is another.
Without doubt, though, Klopp has quickly mastered the art of performing to a high level against other big teams. And it’s not just this season’s phenomenon. Since arriving at Anfield, his record against Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham is Played 17, Won 7, Drawn 9, Lost 1.
Arsenal, by contrast, haven’t won any of their last 11 Premier League away games against the other top six sides. Spurs are similar. They’ve managed just one away win in 17 matches against their main rivals.
Our results in these crunch clashes can’t be described as a ‘Perfect 10’ but a ‘Terrific 10’ is justified as it’s a hugely impressive body of work.
Where it will lead us this season remains to be seen but let’s give massive credit to Klopp for giving every Liverpool fan genuine hope and expectation every time we go into the biggest battles.