Are we comparing Liverpool to the wrong past Premier League champions?
Background image: Pete Linforth | Storm trooper render: CC 4.0 BY-NC
Chirrut Imwe was the blind monk in Star Wars: Rogue One. Not a Jedi but then he didn’t need a light sabre to deal with a squad of Imperial stormtroopers. A stout wooden staff did the trick. In the climactic battle scene, he walks through a killing field filled with stormtroopers, strafing laser blasts from tie fighters and battery cannons, chaos and death all around but never quite touching him. As he walks, he repeats the mantra, “I am one with the Force; the Force is with me.” Viewers sit down to the movie knowing the back story. It’s a suicide mission. No one survives. Yet, the director stacking the deck against Chirrut somehow convinces you he’ll make it.
Football is the opposite. You’re never convinced a club will come out on top against all odds. Look at Leicester City’s run in 2015/16. Right until the end, we had to see it to believe it. Yet, even though Liverpool remain streets ahead of the competition this term, universally viewed as Premier League champions well before it’s a mathematical certainty, the Reds are more like that Leicester squad than the Arsenal Invincibles to whom they're increasingly compared.
Put the knives away, Kopites. That isn’t meant to insult your club. What I’m saying is Leicester are the Chirrut Imwe with a walking staff to Liverpool’s Jedi with a light sabre.
Jurgen Klopp’s side finished second to Manchester City by two points last term. They took the title race down to the last matchday. Coming into this season, they were respected as a formidable foe albeit they weren’t expected to destroy Darth Tiki-Taka and the Manchester City Death Star so [cough] imperiously. Conversely, the Foxes strolled out of a side alley to lay waste to the establishment. Nigel Pearson pulled off a last-minute escape in 2014/15 to keep King Power denizens paying Premier League ticket prices before Claudio Ranieri ding-a-della-donged them up the table. Like Chirrut Imre, no one saw Leicester coming whereas everyone spent the summer debating whether the powerful yet always second-best Merseysiders could finally end their league hoodoo. The two champions couldn’t be more different in that regard.
Yet, Liverpool couldn’t be more different than the Invincible Gunners either. Arsene Wenger’s side escaped the jaws of defeat so many times. Liverpool barely give it a sniff. Twelve times points were taken from the Gunners. Only Manchester United mar the Anfield mob’s perfect record. Arsenal won 26 times overall but the Reds already claim 24 league victories. With 13 games remaining in the campaign, they can win more games than Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, et al before they clinch the title.
We may need to hold our breath for another 1,170 minutes [plus stoppage time] before confirming Liverpool will match Arsenal’s undefeated status. On the other hand, we can already say that, like Leicester, their triumph is in part a case of everyone else simply not wanting it nearly as much.
Through Matchday 26 in 2015/16, Tottenham and Arsenal loomed in Leicester’s rearview, both sides two points back. Manchester United, City and Chelsea all endured poor seasons by their standards. City and United finished 15 points off the pace, Chelsea 31. Liverpool outdid the Blues but, still recovering from the Roy Hodgson/Paul Konchesky era, never entered the title conversation.
Rather, the Twitterverse fought over which North London side would inevitably run down the East Midlands outfit. The Gunners fell off the pace on Matchday 27 and Spurs in the next round. The gap then fluctuated between five and seven points through the next nine games. Everyone waited for the Foxes to falter. They never did. Consistent to the end, they claimed the title by ten points.
Similarly, no one can believe Liverpool pulled so far in front this term. While doubt over their ability to remain unbeaten steadily becomes anticipation they will, Premier League fans expected so much more from their rivals, especially Manchester City. Instead, Pep Guardiola’s side drops points with a regularity they conditioned us to believe was impossible in the past two seasons. Meanwhile, Chelsea and Manchester United rebuild, Tottenham and Arsenal try to find themselves under new managers, and Liverpool appear to be consistent to the end
Comparing that Leicester squad to this Liverpool one is like distinguishing between an alley cat and a lion. One would almost certainly shred the other but the two teams’ unexpected consistency make them two of a kind. "The Force is with them; they are one with the Force."