Back in 1990, when the Anfield trophy room last played host to the top-tier trophy, there was already the smell of change in the air.
However, not even the worst nightmares of the most pessimistic Reds fan could have foreseen what that ‘change’ would yield. Over the following 29 years, Manchester United – of all teams – would surpass Liverpool’s total of 18 league titles.
Sadly, for Liverpool though, that has not been the only issue. The interim years since 1990 have also seen Chelsea and Manchester City gain untold riches, while the two North London giants have grown in stature, with Arsenal claiming three Premier League titles in exemplary fashion.
After 29 years of absence from the Anfield trophy room, the big one is there and it’s waiting. There is an air of invincibility around Anfield that has not been seen for many a year, and Jürgen Klopp’s project is now very near to completion.
Now or Never
A club of Liverpool’s stature should never go nearly three decades without winning the big one, and a failure to take the initiative would make 2018/19 very much a ‘season wasted’.
Fantastic though Liverpool are right now, they remain a narrow second in sports spread betting behind Manchester City to clinch the title. That will, however, do nothing to ease the pressure being felt by Liverpool, especially with Premier League near-misses of years past being followed by a short-term decline at Anfield.
Firstly, there was the Roy Evan’s era, during which Robbie Fowler scored for fun, and turned Liverpool into title contenders during the mid-1990s.
Unfortunately, a failure to keep pace with Manchester United during that time led to a minor slump in the late 1990s, before Gérard Houllier’s international revolution took Liverpool – after some initial ‘teething problems’ – to second in 2001/02.
Again, the title escaped them, and – coincidence or not – the very next season saw the Reds fail to qualify for the Champions League.
The disturbing trend of decline immediately after a failed title challenge was also experienced following the title near-miss of 2008/09, with the departure of Rafael Benitez after a disappointing 2009/10, and the damaging effects of Roy Hodgson’s appointment to the Anfield hot seat lasting for several years.
Then there was 2014, the year that showed more promise than any other, right up until the final two matches of the season. Liverpool once more fell short, and the following season saw Liverpool drop four places – and another two places the year after.
For the sake of progression, and the knowledge of what it takes to win the greatest domestic prize, 2019 simply must be ‘Liverpool’s year’.
Will Liverpool Thrive or Fail?
Liverpool’s progression to the Champions League semi-final, alongside their title challenge, is also the sort of talking point that has gone unheard of in the pubs of Merseyside for three decades.
There is a very ‘80s’ feel to this side, with a lionhearted captain, a colossal figure of reliability in defence, lightning-fast wingers, and an insatiable desire to press high and hard with a lethal counter-attack.
While Liverpool may feel a greater sense of pressure than Manchester City – a team that contains some real past-masters of title races – the Reds clearly have a belief in themselves that is unbeatable on its day.
For all the talk of Champions League football being an unwanted distraction, Liverpool seem to actually thrive on the additional European duties, and a first major ‘double’ in 35 years is very much a possibility.
After all, league seasons are 38 games long, and in the end, it all comes down to stamina as much as who wants it, or who plays the most effective football.
2009, 2014… 2019
Whatever earthly incentives Liverpool need to win the title, none can be greater than winning it to honour the collective spirit of the 96 immortal Reds that fell at Hillsborough.
This spirit, existing as one in the hearts and minds of the Anfield faithful has a curious trait, gaining greater strength in years that mark a more distinct anniversary of the tragedy that changed English football forever.
Once more, a ‘milestone’ anniversary year is being marked by a serious title challenge, and rightly so.
While Liverpool fans have undoubtedly been ‘here’ before, only to end up in tears, there can be no doubt that Liverpool’s run-in is easier than that of Manchester City.
A trip to St James’ Park on the 5th May promises to be a stern test of character, but one that a good performance can certainly overcome, even if Liverpool sides going there previously have returned with just two points from the last dozen available.
Wolves at home on the final day has the potential to be awkward too, especially if the surprise package of 2018/19 is still fighting for seventh place. That said, Liverpool are not on the verge of going unbeaten at Anfield in two successive Premier League seasons for nothing.
Manchester City, for their part, must still overcome a great challenge and win at Old Trafford. City also play out their remaining fixtures knowing that only winning every single one will be enough to guarantee the title.