As Son Hueng-Min’s deflected effort nestled into the back of the net for Spurs on Sunday evening, the champions were left with the sobering reality of their position. Their title rivals Liverpool now had a 22 point lead and were just six league victories away from ending a 30-year title drought.
Manchester City pipped them at the post by the narrowest of margins last season leaving Jurgen Klopp’s men in second place on a staggering 97 points. No other team in the history of English football had recorded such a colossal figure and been left without the title in their grasp.
Champions League glory a few weeks later somewhat softened the blow of missing out on the title. Behind the scenes though the club was ceaseless. Work was being done to refine the players already at Klopp’s disposal. There was no time for self-pity or anguish to take hold under the guise of their eccentric German coach. Standing still and admiring their achievements was simply not an option for this Liverpool team. The foundations were in and they were ready to build.
Indeed their work over the summer, whilst not resplendent with transfer activity, bore all the hallmarks of a club uncoupling itself from the burdens of the past and working towards their own fresh chapters of glory and progress.
Speaking before a Champions League epic in 2018 Klopp mused on Liverpool’s illustrious past: “I like these things. These are cool. But this club is already so full of history,”
“I meet people every day who can tell me about goals Liverpool have scored 36 years ago in the 57th minute. I like that. We need to be proud of our history but we need to create our own.”
For a generation of Liverpool fans, these words should have been met with joy and reassurance. This was a manager heading up a club that for the first time in a long time, had its eye on the future whilst not being horribly encumbered by its past after going so close to the title.
Growing revenue off the pitch, new sponsorship deals, stadium expansion and a growing ability to attract and nurture top talent were part of an increasingly bulging scrapbook of positive headlines coming out of Anfield. The club could celebrate its history for sure, but under Klopp and FSG, Liverpool look like a club playing with freedom and behaving with the burgeoning confidence of a football superpower once again.
Such a leap away from being a fading football force living in the ruin of their past is a truly remarkable recovery story for such a massive club. For so long, stagnation and missed opportunities underscored a lack of confidence and title winning credentials, even in some of their better sides and eras under Gerard Houllier and Rafa Benitez.
Oddly enough though, their evolution into a well-oiled machine, capable of winning the big honours could bare some crumbs for comfort for their bitter rivals at the top of the English football tree.
Manchester United were, for many a year enjoying the kind of stellar success that Klopp’s Liverpool and indeed Pep Guardiola’s City are showcasing in 2020. And yet, it appears to be the burden and recency of their glory days that is contributing to the failings of this current United side.
While their wait for a title is only a meager seven years, the relevance and touching distance of the players from the Sir Alex Ferguson era in the studios and column inches still resonate pointedly behind the scenes.
Just as with Liverpool in their meandering years of the nineties; every faltering result, bad signing and poor performance is under the magnifying glasses of former players who brought so much glory to Old Trafford.
With each passing achievement of their rivals flaunted in front of them, the yearning for those glory years appears to be greater and an alarmingly growing hindrance behind the scenes.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s presence on the touchline overseeing the most recent run of poor results in the post Ferguson era is the most clear and obvious current example of this.
The Norwegian is a tangible and reassuring link to the title winning sides of the past. Just as Roy Evans was brought in to the Liverpool hot seat in January 1994 as a credible link to the Boot Room days of old; Solskjaer embodies a similar emotionally charged decision that is still restricting a great club from making the right strides forward.
The “Gaffa” Sir Alex Ferguson being offered the chance to do the team talk ahead of a massive clash with Liverpool last season may have been light-hearted and fun. However, it was just another awkward nod in a long line of awkward nods, to those glory days that are still casting their shadow over a club still trying to find it’s feet in the post Fergie era.
And yet, despite their run of severe under-achievement United remain a hugely wealthy club with significant infrastructure that could spring into life once more with the right people at the helm. If they can uncouple themselves from the rose-tinted vistas of their glory days and seriously focus on their future with a defined mantra and clear leadership then they would be well placed to thrive once again.
Just as Klopp and Liverpool have done; they must focus on their own future and be quietly respectful of their glorious past. At the moment their history is a mighty burden, clouding judgement behind the scenes and hindering their progress. United must be careful that they don’t stall in this mode as Liverpool did for so long and end up living in a ruin whilst watching bitterly as their rivals flourish around them.