For many American viewers, the world of soccer is foreign and mystical. Even as Major League Soccer expands and NBC proliferates its coverage of the English Premier League, many eyes in the United States immediately glaze over when they see the Beautiful Game on the television.
That’s a tragedy, particularly now. Currently, in the Premier League, Liverpool F.C., a loveable group of superstars led by a brilliant and jocular bespectacled German, Jürgen Klopp, is dominating in a way that few soccer teams have ever dominated before. There are several months left in the Premier League season, plenty of time for you to familiarize yourself with the Beautiful Game and this beautiful team.
The Road to Here
Klopp first took over at Liverpool on Oct. 8, 2015. Like Bill Belichick or Nick Saban in American football, he assumed control of a historically great program that had fallen on hard times. And just like those gridiron head coaches, he slowly and consistently built the Reds (Liverpool’s creative team nickname) into a juggernaut of success.
Klopp took over a 3-2-3 team from mercurial manager Brendan Rodgers. Despite the poor start, he managed them to an eight-place finish. But his focus was more on team-building than grabbing victories. Over time, he brought in now-stars like Mohammed Salah and Sadio Mane as well as the world’s best defender, Virgil Van Dijk.
In his second season, Klopp managed the team to a fourth-place finish, qualifying the Reds for the prestigious UEFA Champions League for the first time since 2013-14 and only the second time since 2009-10. But there was a clear problem rising for Liverpool: as good as Klopp could make them, the league leaders Manchester City seemed to be on another level. That proved true yet again the following season, when Liverpool finished fourth despite Salah’s breakout 44 goal performance and an unbeaten record at their historic home stadium, Anfield.
2018-19 was a transformative season for Liverpool, Manchester City, and English football. Manchester City would win again, by one point in the standings, but only after the greatest title chase in league history. Liverpool fell behind City on March 3 after a 0-0 draw with their archrival Everton. Both teams would win their final nine games, running neck-and-neck for the title. It was another testament to the greatness of Manchester City and another heartbreaking defeat for Klopp and Liverpool. But even with the intensity of the title chase, they went unbeaten at home for a second consecutive season and won their sixth Champions League title in the process.
An All-Time Great Streak
The 2019-20 season began with an air of determination. Liverpool were champions of Europe but fell just one point short of their ultimate goal, a Premier League title. Still, they’d been unbeaten at home for two consecutive seasons, and in fact, hadn’t lost a single game since Jan. 3 the season prior, a loss to Manchester City that helped bring about their downfall.
Still, this season felt different. There was a calm and confidence in the air over Merseyside. They kicked off the season with two largely symbolic exhibitions, losing the FA Community Shield to Manchester City on penalties, but beating Chelsea for the UEFA Super Cup. They won their first five regular-season games by an aggregate score of 15-4, and they were off to the races. Early season slip-ups by Manchester City during that same period, drawing against Tottenham Hostpur and losing to heavy underdog Norwich City, gave a new ray of hope.
And Liverpool has continued to win. In fact, they haven’t yet lost in a Premier League game in the 2019-20 season. They remained unbeaten at Anfield, a historic streak that now stretches to 52 consecutive games. Their unbeaten streak in Premier League contests now stands at 38, the length of an entire season. That gives them the third-longest unbeaten streak in Premier League history (the record stands at 49, which Arsenal accomplished from May 7, 2003, to Oct. 24, 2004).
With their win this past weekend, Liverpool now has won 20 of their first 21 games, good for 61 of 63 possible points. Not only is that impressive for an English club, but no team in any of Europe’s top 5 leagues has ever accomplished such a feat. And yet, with all the accolades, there is work left to be done.
Chasing Their First
In spite of every accomplishment, there remains one golden goose that eludes the Reds. We mentioned that Klopp took over a historic program that fell on hard times. What we have not mentioned is that Liverpool has never won a Premier League title. The incredibly historic program last won the league title in the 1989/90 season, 29 years and 256 days ago, before it was rebranded the Premier League.
In the soon-to-be 30 years since, they’ve come close, agonizingly so. They’ve been within a point. They’ve had it in hand and famously, in the case of club legend Steven Gerrard, let it all slip away. Like the Cleveland Browns and Toronto Maple Leafs, they remain desperately in search of a taste of their former glory. And it seems like Klopp may finally be the man to hand them the spoon.
As of this writing, Liverpool has 61 points. Manchester City stands in second, 14 points behind at 47. And, remarkably, Liverpool has a game in hand. City’s manager, Pep Guardiola, has admitted that Liverpool appears out of reach. It seems impossible that a team as good as the Reds have been could drop 14 points in their remaining 17 games, let alone whether any team could play well enough to catch them if they did.
And yet, no self-respecting Liverpool fan will count their chickens before they hatch. They’ve seen it all slip away before, and they will want the Premier League title well in hand, literally, before the celebrating begins. When it does, though, expect an epic party in Liverpool. And look to see the joyful and inspirational mastermind behind it all, Jürgen Klopp, at the front of the parade.