They say the hardest part isn’t winning the title; it’s defending it.
Many have tried, but in 28 seasons of the Premier League it’s only been done eight times. It takes a special team to run it again.
And sometimes a team has given so much to get to the top that they fall over the other side once they get there, and begin a slide that can’t be arrested.
These are what Roy Keane might refer to as “bad champions”. The clubs that fell so far short of the standards they set in winning the whole thing, it makes you wonder how they did it in the first place.
Liverpool are coming dangerously close to emulating them, but how do Jürgen Klopp’s men stand compared with the worst title defences at the same point in seasons gone by?
Five of the worst Premier League title defences after 25 games
5. Blackburn Rovers, 1995/96: 17 points worse off
Blackburn’s fall was almost as spectacular as their rise. Backed by Jack Walker’s millions in the early nineties, Rovers went from a club that hadn’t competed in the top-flight since the sixties to Premier League champions by 1995.
Their title defence hit its first snag when Kenny Dalglish moved from the dugout to the front office, taking up a role as Director of Football. The Scot was succeeded by his assistant Ray Harford, who was not cut out for the job.
Rovers lost three of their first four matches, and crashed out of the Champions League group stages to Rosenborg, Legia Warsaw and Spartak Moscow. The nadir was a 5-0 defeat to Coventry City in December.
Although they improved in the second half of the campaign, they lost 13 matches and finished seventh. In October 1996 star striker Alan Shearer left for Newcastle, which effectively signalled the end of the good times. By 1999 they were relegated to the second tier.
4. Manchester United, 2013/14: 21 points worse off
For whatever reason, all of the very worst title defences have come in the last decade. This trend was kicked off by Manchester United, who botched the Alex Ferguson succession plan, if you could even call it that.
David Moyes arrived from Everton, but he never felt right for a role that always appeared too gargantuan for him. The lowest of many low points may well have come when they drew 2-2 to a dreadful Fulham side.
The Red Devils trailed for much of the tie, until two goals in two minutes turned things around. Then they somehow allowed Darren Bent to get a last minute equaliser. But the match was most notorious for the 81 crosses they sent in on to the head of Fulham’s Dan Burn, who is almost two metres tall. Only 18 of them were successful.
A 2-0 loss to Everton was the final straw for the dour, defeatist Moyes. Man United finished seventh that season with 12 defeats, their worst Premier League placement before or since.
3. Chelsea, 2015/16: 29 points worse off
One of the most spectacular falls from grace in Premier League history, Chelsea’s godawful defence of their 2014/15 can be boiled down to one man: Jose Mourinho.
In a pattern that has become well established, the Portuguese tactician achieved success in his second season (of his second spell at the club), before imploding in the third season.
Mourinho gave post-match interviews that baffled his players, some of whom he threw under the bus. But the moment that really sparked the beginning of the end was his treatment of first-team doctor Eva Carneiro.
The Chelsea manager lambasted Carneiro as she and physiotherapist Jon Fearn ran onto the pitch to treat an injured player, as it meant that player would have to leave the pitch. Mourinho was heard calling her a “daughter of a whore”, which lead to a lengthy legal battle after she was unfairly dismissed.
Mourinho was sacked four months after that incident, having lost nine of the opening 16 matches in the league. The Blues lost just three more matches following his dismissal, but finished tenth, their worst placement since 1996.
2. Leicester City, 2016/17: 32 points worse off
In 2016 Leicester City experienced the dream by claiming the Premier League title, but it quickly descended into a nightmare the following campaign.
The Foxes lost their opening game of the season to Hull City, who were struggling to put together a full squad, and it just went downhill from there. By the end of December they had lost more games than they had in the entirety of the previous campaign.
A five-game losing run in February saw Claudio Ranieri sacked, and his successor Craig Shakespeare immediately took them on a five-game winning run. A 6-1 defeat to Spurs on the penultimate day of the season was particularly crushing, and their 12th-placed finish was the worst ever by a defending champion.
1. Liverpool, 2020/21: 33 points worse off
And we come to Liverpool’s current crop of champions, who are embarking on the worst title defence of any league winners at this stage of a Premier League season.
To be fair to them, they are doing so in one of the most exceptional seasons ever, dealing with circumstances that no reigning champions has ever had to.
Up until late December Liverpool were considered favourites to finish top and retain the title, but their myriad of injuries have taken too great a toll. The wheels have come off ever since their 1-1 draw with Big Sam’s West Brom. Since then they have won just two out of nine league matches, obliterating any hopes of placing first again.
The question now is not whether they can challenge for the title, but can they even stay in the top four.