No shame in second for Liverpool

Liverpool second Premier League Klopp Van Dijk Robertson Salah Mane

Bill Shankly famously said that finishing second is nothing. Even he, though, would have been tempted to revise that statement when discussing this current Liverpool team. Describing this team as failures would be cruel in the extreme.

While the overarching desire is to look back at this past season and mourn the death of another potential title win, the reaction should be the opposite. Liverpool should be celebrating a glorious campaign and the fact that it happened in the first place. Jurgen Klopp’s side have impressed beyond belief over the past year. Suggestions that they have done anything but succeed this season are not worth listening to. Klopp will certainly be sharing that message among his group. The 2018/19 campaign saw them pick up 22 more points than the previous season, winning nine more games, drawing five fewer and losing four less as well. They also scored five more goals and conceded 16 less. Drastic improvement in every regard. That saw them go from fourth to second and establish a new dominance in the Premier League. In its current state, it is hard not to see either the Reds or Manchester City winning the title next season. There will be few bold enough to predict either of those two challenging at the top again.

While that remains to be seen, so we’ll focus on the recent past for now. Liverpool’s 97 points is the most managed by any team to finish second in the history of Europe’s top five leagues. Indeed, it would have won them the title in 25 of 27 Premier League campaign and is a better total than 116 of the previous 119 English league champions managed. It means this Liverpool team managed to earn more points than the Arsenal Invincibles, any team led by Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho’s first Chelsea team.

Were it not for the existence of a City team, created via colossal investments from Abu Dhabi and under the tutelage of the best coach of his generation, they would be the best team in the league by some distance. It is also not extravagant to suggest they would be in the running for consideration as the best team in the history of the league.

The numbers they have managed this season certainly make them worthy of such a title. They’ve suffered defeat once all season, the fewest in the league, and conceded the fewest goals. They’ve also gone unbeaten at home all season, for a second successive season, and won more points from losing positions than any other side. That latter achievement is a sign of the power of this squad. Few managers in world football can motivate and build confidence in players like Klopp, and that has been evident this season. Time and time again, Liverpool have battled for points, fighting until the last to maintain the pressure on City and close the 25 gap that separated the two sides last year.

Indeed, individual performances at Anfield have been nothing short of exemplary from day one. From goalkeeper through to forwards, nobody in this Liverpool squad has failed to pull their weight. Alisson finished the season as the best goalkeeper in the Premier League and with the numbers to prove it. Not only did he win the Golden Glove after keeping 21 clean sheets, but he also had the best save success of any goalkeeper in the league. Alisson faced 97 shots this season and saved 76 of them, a 78.4% success rate.

Then there’s Virgil van Dijk in front of him. Much has been written about the Dutchman this season, and none of it exaggerated. Van Dijk has transformed into a world-class centre-back under Jurgen Klopp’s guidance, becoming comfortably the best in his position in the league and Europe. He was more than worthy of his status as Premier League player of the Year and PFA Player of the Year. He finished the campaign without a single opposition player dribbling past him and completed 38 tackles. To put that feat into context, no player managed more than five successful tackles without an opposition player finding their way past them.

Either side of Van Dijk sit Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, two of the best full-backs in Europe themselves. They finished the season with ten plus assists each, the first time ever that two defenders have done so. That was little wonder given the quality of the forwards they are providing chances for. The power of Liverpool’s front three is well documented, but this season it was on show once more.

Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah scored 22 goals each this season, their tally of 44 goals the best by any attacking duo in the Premier League. It saw them share the Golden Boot with Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang, though Mane’s conversion rate of 25% saw him standing alone in that regard. Across the board, Liverpool’s players were top of the charts. They had the best goalkeeper; the best centre back, the best full-backs and the best forwards.

Couple it with the improvement they showed as a team, and there is no way to label this season a failure. They may not have ended their wait for a league title but that is coming sooner rather than later, and a sixth Champions League win in Madrid may ease that particular wound for the time being anyway. Shankly would have called it a failure and Klopp put glorious before the same word. The reality is, though, this season was anything but.

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