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A look at Liverpool’s title challenges in the Premier League era

Since Liverpool won the league in the 1989 -1990 season, seven different teams have lifted the title, including Blackburn Rovers, Leeds United and Leicester City. Great rivals Manchester United have won it 13 times in the intervening period, whilst Chelsea (five), Manchester City, and Arsenal have all claimed multiple triumphs. Yet whilst the trophy room at Anfield has been accommodated to fit domestic and European trophies in the past 30 years, the league trophy has so far eluded them.

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However, with 14 games played, Liverpool are eight points clear at the top, and eleven ahead of the team most pundits regarded as the team to beat at the start of the season, Manchester City. Liverpool fans are beginning to dream that this could be the year that their long standing hoodoo is broken.

However, those who have been following the club for a long-time will be urging younger supporters about celebrating too early. They will tell them that the Merseysiders have been here before, and they need to guard against the possible disappointment to come.

2018 – 2019

Most recently, the club came second last season, despite finishing the season with 97 points, a record runners-up tally for any club in the top five European leagues.  On 29th December last year, Liverpool had a ten point advantage over Manchester City, and yet missed out on the title by a single point, as City won 18 out of their last nineteen games, including all of the last 14.

In fact the last three times a team has topped the league on Christmas Day but then gone on to miss out on the league title, the side involved on each occasion has been Liverpool.

In 2008 – 2009 they lost to Manchester United, and then in 2013 – 2014 it was Manchester City who once again pipped them to the post.

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2013 – 2014

It was perhaps 2013 – 2014 that will live longest in the memory. Liverpool were in the driving seat as the season reached its climax, enjoying  a16 game unbeaten run that included big wins over Arsenal, Manchester United, and Tottenham. Chelsea trailed Liverpool by five points with three games remaining, whilst City trailed by six, although they had four games left to play.

Chelsea came to Anfield, with the home side knowing that a win would give them the title, with even a draw being a good result. And as far as the home fans were concerned, the title was already in the bag, delaying the home-team coach as they arrived for the game, setting off celebratory flares in the street, and chanting “we’ re going to win the league”.

However, just before half-time, Steven Gerrard, the club’s iconic captain, and the man most associated with the elusive search for the league title, made a fatal error. First, he mis-controlled a pass from Mamadou Sakho, and then stumbled as he tried to recover the situation. Demba Ba pounced in a flash, scored the goal, and Liverpool never recovered in the match or the title race.

In their next match away to Crystal Palace, they appeared again to have gained ascendancy in the title race, only to surrender a three goal lead at Selhurst Park, with just 12 minutes on the clock left. Meanwhile City were pulling ahead of them, and would eventually clinch the title two points clear, with a superior goal difference of 14.

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2008 – 2009

It was another disappointment to add to that of five years earlier, when again they had a commanding lead over Manchester United at Christmas, only to squander it with a series of draws in January, dropping points against Stoke City, local rivals Everton, and then Wigan Athletic. A 2- 0 draw away at Middlesbrough further dented their hopes.

Meanwhile, United had closed the gap and edged ahead, which meant that although Liverpool won ten out of the last eleven matches they played, Sir Alex Ferguson’s men had established a stranglehold on the title.

1990 – 1991

Prior to those three campaigns, the other time that Liverpool finished second in the table was in 1990 – 1991, the penultimate season before the Premier League started, when they finished six points behind champions Arsenal. In reality though, they were second best throughout that season, and the points’ differential was, in reality greater, because the Gunners had suffered the deduction of two points after a brawl with Manchester United in a match at Old Trafford.

The Odds

So is this the year that the title finally makes its way back to the red half of Merseyside? Certainly, oddsmakers make them the current top contender with odds listed at 2/5, with Manchester City their nearest rivals at 12/5. Leicester City and Chelsea are on par at 33/1.

Will They Win it?

However, before fans rush out to put money on Liverpool, there are several reasons why they should pause and think first.

There is not only the recent history of those failures, when a lead at Christmas evaporated in the New Year. There is also the fact that there league campaign is about to be interrupted as they travel to Qatar to take place in the World Cup Club.  And then there is their Champions League defence to take into account, with qualification to the knock-out stages meaning that they have to travel to Red Bull Salzburg in the final group game and get some sort of result.

The FA Cup also has to be taken into account, especially after they were drawn against local rivals Everton in the third round, a match that fans will demand that they take seriously.

Another factor that must be taken into account is injuries. Defensive midfielder Fabinho has been one of their best players this season, but he is now out until the New Year. There title challenge could yet be derailed also if one of the front three of Sadio Mané, Mo Salah, or Roberto Firmino were to pick up a serious knock.

On the other hand, some might argue that winning becomes a habit. And, having broken the losing sequence by winning the Champions League in Madrid in June, they followed that up by lifting the European Super Cup against Chelsea in Istanbul. Under Klopp, Liverpool have now proved to themselves that they can lift trophies.  It is now a question of whether they can now go one further, and win the one tournament that their fans valued above all others.

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