In the 2018-2019 season, Liverpool Football Club got 97 points. Ninety-seven. Any season other than one in which we were going up against a financially-doped Manchester City, that would have been enough to win the league. Instead, we missed out by one point. When we finished second in 2001-2002 we followed that up with a fifth place finish the following season. When we did it in 2008-2009 we then ended up seventh the year after. Our improbably tilt at the title in 2013-2014 resulted in us ending the following campaign in sixth. It’s fair to say, then, that this club hasn’t done well at following up big points totals one year with a similar amount the year after during the Premier League era. Indeed, we haven’t gone on to win the title the year after reaching second place since the 1989-1990 season, which came towards the end of a nineteen season streak in which we failed to finish in the top two just once.
1 – On the only previous occasion that Liverpool started a league season at home against Norwich City, the Reds won the top-flight league title ahead of Manchester City in 2nd (1976-77). Liverpool beat Norwich 1-0 at Anfield on MD1 that season. Fate? #PremierLeagueFixtures pic.twitter.com/7Skreef33b
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 13, 2019
The question that naturally crops up is whether we’ll have the ability to break the ninety point barrier again in the 2019-2020 season. The reality is that only two teams have managed to finish on more than ninety points two seasons running since the Premier League began, with both of them getting a lower points total the following year. We know about Guardiola’s Manchester City, with the other team being José Mourinho’s Chelsea, who racked up ninety-five points in 2004-2005 and then got ninety-one in 2005-2006. Every other side that got ninety points or more got fewer than that the season after, with only Manchester United in 1999-2000 getting over ninety points one season before retaining the title with less than that the season after. In other words, then, it won’t be easy for the Reds to take the challenge to the Cityzens in the forthcoming campaign, so what can we learn from the fixtures, which were released today?
We’ve Got A Tough Start & A Tough Finish Whilst City Have Neither
There’s no telling which teams will be involved in the title challenge next season. As I type this, it’s likely that Ole Gunnar Solksjaer will still be Manchester United manager at the start of August, that Chelsea will have yet another new man in the dugout and that Tottenham will be reeling from their Champions League final defeat, but none of those things are guaranteed. Who knows what will happen over the next eleven months as the season takes shape? After all, few people thought Liverpool would be able to close the gap to Manchester City in the space of one campaign, yet we did just that. Even so, whilst we can’t speak definitively, it is likely that Jürgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola will renew hostilities once again when we get to the business end of the campaign. With that in mind, here’s Liverpool’s opening five fixtures compared to City’s:
|Liverpool’s Games||Manchester City’s Games|
|Norwich City (h)||West Ham (a)|
|Chelsea (a)||Tottenham Hotspur (h)|
|Southampton (a)||Bournemouth (a)|
|Arsenal (h)||Brighton & Hove Albion (h)|
|Burnley (a)||Norwich City (a)|
On the one hand, Liverpool didn’t lose to any side that finished below then in the Premier League last season, so we shouldn’t fear playing anyone this time around. On the other hand, none of Chelsea, Southampton and Burnley are easy to play away from home, with the fact that Ralph Hasenhüttl will have had a pre-season to drill his methods into his Saints players a fact that I’m not delighted by. In comparison, City’s only slightly tricky fixture will be Spurs, but they beat them three times in all competitions last time out and will be keen for revenge for their Champions League dismissal.
When it comes to the end of the season, the last five games look like this:
|Liverpool’s Games||Manchester City’s Games|
|Brighton & Hove Albion (a)||Newcastle United (h)|
|Burnley (h)||Brighton & Hove Albion (a)|
|Arsenal (a)||Bournemouth (h)|
|Chelsea (h)||Watford (a)|
|Newcastle United (a)||Norwich City (h)|
We both play Brighton away, plus Newcastle, but City get to take the Magpies on at home and we have to travel to St. James’ Park. Add into that the fact that we’ll again have to dig deep against Burnley and travel to Arsenal before welcoming Chelsea and it’s not hard to figure out which team has the tougher end of season.
When You Play Teams Matters
One of football’s oldest clichés is that the table never lies, when it lies every day of the season apart from the final one. Games in hand aren’t taken into account, for example, nor is when you play a team. One of the worst takes in the game on the day the fixtures get released is that ‘everyone plays everyone twice’. It’s true, of course, but the time at which you play them can make all the difference. Should Norwich be relegated by the time they travel to play City on the final day of the season, for example, then it will be a much easier game for the Cityzens than for us on the opening day of the season, under the lights. We don’t know right now when it’s good or bad to play teams, but it will become abundantly clear as the campaign wears on. Take our game against Manchester United at Old Trafford last season, for example. It came in the midst of a twelve game unbeaten run for them, of which ten were wins.
City get one top 6 side in their first 11. We get 5 in our first 12.
— Robert G (@RobGutmann) June 13, 2019
Equally playing a team after an international break or a Champions League encounter will make a difference, given how much both of those things can affect fitness and rhythm. It might well turn out to be a good thing for us to play Chelsea at the start of the season, given that they’ll have had to get used to the workings of a new manager whilst our player will know exactly what Jürgen Klopp expects from them. On the flipside, though, the players will be trying to impress the new man in the dugout at the start of the campaign or playing for something towards the end, making both of them tougher than the mid-November and end of March encounters with them that City have to worry about. That’s to say nothing of the likelihood of games being moved around to satisfy the TV schedulers or to cope with fixture congestion because of cup runs. There are any number of things that might influence how the season pans out, given that I haven’t even mentioned VAR yet. What the Reds have to do is win and keep winning to take the fight to City.