What Makes A Team ‘The Best’?

Last night was harder than many people expected. There were plenty of pre-match predictions suggesting that the Reds would win by a few goals, which seemed to be based entirely on West Ham’s league position and ignored the fact that David Moyes has many faults but he knows how to set up a team to be obstinate. I was never that confident that it would be an overwhelmingly easy win, but I must admit that even I was surprise that the Hammers managed to take the lead. It seemed to be as much about a slightly lackadaisical approach from Liverpool as it did how well they played. The crowd seemed subdued and the players appeared to feed off that, misplacing passes and failing to up the tempo. As Mo Stewart said on Twitter, it was a game that increased the shouts for Jordan Henderson to win Player Of The Year even though he didn’t play, demonstrating how much of the game’s tempo he dictates when he plays.

It was windy and, as much as people don’t like to talk about it, you can see in the manner that the ball span away from players as they were about to hit it that it definitely showed its influence. Perhaps that, combined with Moyes’ decision to get his team to have a bit of a go at us, stopped us from finding out rhythm. It’s also tricky for the crowd to know how to pitch itself, given that we all know we’ve won the title but it isn’t yet mathematically certain. It should be a weekly party, but until the numbers are on the board there’ll always be that hint of nervousness and a vague sense of ‘we’ve been here before’. Given that Roy Hodgson’s Liverpool team could win it from here and this is very much not Roy Hodgson’s Liverpool, it’s a matter of when, not if. Jürgen Klopp’s side is doing something genuinely incredible, putting itself in the pantheon of top sides of all time. But as Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville discussed on Monday Night Football, what makes a top side?

Consistency Is Important

The argument put forward by Carragher and Neville in the wake of last night’s match was that a team has to do something consistently to be considered truly great. As remarkable as Leicester City’s title win was in 2015-2016, for example, the fact that the season before the finished fourteenth and in the campaigns that followed they ended up twelfth, ninth and ninth again suggests that it was a case of the stars aligning rather than them being a particularly brilliant team. It’s a stick that opposition fans are desperate to beat this Liverpool side with, in spite of the fact that the evidence suggests that it really is an incredible team. We reached the Champions League final in 2017-2018 at the same time as getting a top four finish. Poorer teams have managed that, of course, but no other team in the Premier League era has followed it up with ninety-seven points and a Champions League win. That’s impressive.

Even then some people felt that it was a one-off. We’ve all seen the clip of Noel Gallagher laughing at us having our ‘best ever seen’ but still missing out on the title, suggesting that no one would get near City this time around. He’s right in a way, of course: we’re nowhere near Man City. Pep Guardiola’s charges deserve credit of their own, mind. To get one hundred and nighty-eight points over the space of two Premier League campaigns is remarkable. Yes, there’s a conversation to be had about the club’s financial dealings, but that doesn’t take away from what the players actually achieved. They’re also still in the Champions League and FA Cup and will win the League Cup this weekend, so if they pick up some silverware and hit seventy-plus points then it’s another example of a team demonstrating remarkable consistency. We haven’t yet done enough to be added to this list of all-time greats, but we’re not far off.

One-Off Seasons Also Matter

As important as consistency is in terms of a side being declared as one of the greatest ever, there’s something to be said for one-off seasons. Say what you want about Leicester’s achievement in terms of none of the big teams performing, but they still had to do what needed to be done and ended up on eight-one points, two more than Manchester United’s 1998-1999 team. The Red Devils won a treble, of course, which explains a good degree of the dropped points. It also puts into perspective Man City’s domestic treble and Liverpool’s Champions League win whilst also notching up ninety-eight and ninety-seven points respectively. My good friend Aaron is a United fan and is convinced that that 1999 team would ‘comfortably’ beat this Liverpool side, predictably declaring the rest of the Premier League to be ‘poor’. That’s nonsense, of course, but even if it was wasn’t there have been other poor years yet no one else has done this.

Perhaps the United 1998-1999 side would beat us in a one-off game, but then again no one else has. That is widely held up as one of the best United teams ever, but that’s because of the treble it one rather than the Premier League season. They won the title on seventy-nine points, which is the same number as we’ve got now but we’ve got another eleven games to play. The idea that they’re a superior side in any way is, frankly, laughable. That being said, the only way to prove as much in any definitive sense is to win the FA Cup and Champions League, equally their trophy haul at the same time as smashing their points total. We’re physically unable to match their record of three losses and thirteen draws because we don’t have enough games left to do so. Aaron’s stance is proof that opposition fans are desperate to avoid giving this Liverpool team the credit it deserves, sticking to partisan positions rather than admit when a team is exceptional.

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