Five years ago, Brendan Rodgers was replaced as Liverpool manager by Jurgen Klopp. While the German is yet to taste domestic league success with the Reds, his predecessor has won two league titles with Celtic and had them well on course for a third before taking the Leicester job in February 2019.
The Northern Ireland native may well afford himself a wry smile in that regard but it seems that he bears absolutely no grudges against his former club or the man who took his job at Anfield – quite the opposite, in fact – judging by comments he made on the ‘Eamonn and the Gaffers‘ podcast.
With Liverpool 25 points clear in the Premier League but their title fate hanging in the balance since the season was halted due to coronavirus, Rodgers had his say on the Reds’ on-hold pursuit of glory. He said: “They’ve clearly been consistently the best team. The level that they’ve been playing at, the quality – they’ve just been absolutely fantastic.
“So it would be an absolute shame if they don’t get the chance to to lift the title. They’ve been waiting so, so long – they’re deserving of it. But Jurgen will be like everyone, hoping that we can get back playing but obviously in a safe environment.”
Rodgers is well placed to speak on the subject, having overseen one of Liverpool’s most agonising finishes to a season in living memory. He was the man in charge of the Reds when they embarked on an 11-game winning streak in the latter part of 2013/14 to put them on course for glory. Then, in the space of nine days, the wheels came off in scarcely believable fashion.
First there was that game against Chelsea at Anfield where Steven Gerrard’s slip led to Demba Ba’s opening goal in a 2-0 win for the Blues during which they were dominated in terms of possession and territory but somehow emerged victorious (as per BBC). Then came the fateful trip to Selhurst Park a week later when, 3-0 ahead with 11 minutes to play, Liverpool contrived to relinquish that lead and draw 3-3 with Crystal Palace.
Those results allowed Manchester City in to clinch the title and proved decisive as the Reds finished only two points behind Manuel Pellegrini’s side. It wouldn’t be the first or last time that Liverpool came up cruelly short of a team from the city.
In 2008/09, Liverpool lost only two league games all season and did the double over Manchester United, including a 4-1 hammering at Old Trafford. It still wasn’t enough for a first league crown since 1990 as Alex Ferguson’s team kept their noses in front to finish four points clear. Their 3-2 win over Aston Villa in the run-in, where they were losing with less than 10 minutes to go and scored a stoppage time winner through debutant Federico Macheda, summed up their sadly indefatigable nature.
Ten seasons later, Liverpool were beaten only once in a 38-match league campaign and racked up a seismic total of 97 points…but still came second. Their sole defeat was to a Manchester City team who won 18 of their final 19 games to finish the season on 98 points. In that pivotal 2-1 win at the Etihad Stadium, John Stones marginally prevented a Sadio Mane shot from crossing the line while Leroy Sane’s winning goal went in off the post (as per BBC). The gods had decided that nothing Liverpool could do would be enough to thwart Pep Guardiola’s side.
Liverpool fans are far too familiar with tough-to-take title near-misses, but losing out on the 2019/20 Premier League crown would undoubtedly be the toughest of all. Teams have thrown away sizeable leads or been denied at the death before – the Reds had been 10 points ahead of Manchester City midway through last season and had the 1989 title taken from them when Arsenal’s Michael Thomas scored a stoppage time goal at Anfield.
In 1996, Newcastle went from being 12 points clear in January to finishing second behind Manchester United. Sixteen years later, United themselves blew an eight-point lead with only five weeks of the season remaining as Manchester City won the title on goal difference with those two stoppage time strikes in the extraordinary 3-2 defeat of QPR on the final day.
However, the agony of all those title slips would be outdone by the utter helplessness of Liverpool being denied the 2019/20 crown if the season cannot resume because the coronavirus threat is just too severe. In those other campaigns, the teams who had the destiny of the title in their control relinquished it through not quite doing enough over the course of the season. This time around, the Reds have been near-flawless in establishing a 25-point lead with their closest challengers only able to obtain another 30 and more than 75% of the season played.
If COVID-19 was to end the season and if the authorities subsequently decide not to award Liverpool the title, it would represent far more than an “absolute shame”, as Rodgers put it, for the Reds would have been deprived of glory through external circumstances rather than any shortcomings of their own.
Liverpool fans, would a voided 2019/20 season be worse than any of the Reds’ other title near-misses? Have your say by commenting below!