Jurgen Klopp’s Reds have yet to be crowned champions of England but they’d be a match for any of the Red Devils’ great teams of yesteryear
The raw figures are these: 13 Premier League titles for Manchester United and none for Liverpool.
When England’s reconstituted top flight kicked off in 1992, the Merseysiders had 18 titles and United had just seven. Huge rivals, yes, but no Liverpool fan could envisage the Red Devils catching them up, let alone going two clear.
Since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013, Liverpool have come close to adding a 19th league win twice, in 2014 and earlier this year, but it still eludes them.
Eight points clear of Manchester City after eight games played, 2019-20 seems like the best opportunity yet for Liverpool to close the gap on Manchester United to a single title. Fact has been, United are a shadow of their former selves, nowhere near as effective as they were in their pomp under Ferguson.
The Scot built multiple teams in his two-and-a-half decades at Old Trafford but, in fairness, none of them had to chase down a Pep Guardiola side. It seems to be a reasonable argument that Jurgen Klopp’s European champions are a match for any of the all-conquering United sides of the 1990s or 2000s. It’s an assertion that will no doubt cause outrage in the red half of Manchester.
A treble in 1999, three titles in a row between 1999 and 2001, another Champions League in 2008 and another three in a row between 2007 and 2009 – this has been pure football dynasty.
But Ferguson’s side never reached 97 points in a single Premier League campaign. The average total of their title-winning seasons was 84.7, and that includes two seasons of 42 games.
The average number of defeats suffered by United in their 13 Premier League title seasons was 4.7; in 2008-09, under Rafa Benitez, Liverpool became the first team in top-flight history to lose only twice all season and not win the league. In 2018-19, Klopp’s Reds became the first team ever to lose just once and not be crowned champions.
Think back to 2013-14, when Brendan Rodgers’ team came so close too.
Defensively, Liverpool didn’t possess a title-winning backline but up front, with Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho alchemising perfectly, the Reds scored 101 times, a three-digit total United have only reached three times in their history – and not since 1959-60.
Ferguson’s teams did not produce a 20-goal-a-season striker between Brian McClair in the late 1980s and Dwight Yorke in 2000 yet the 1990s were drenched in silverware for the club. Liverpool saw Suarez match Cristiano Ronaldo’s 31-goal haul in a single 38-game Premier League season and then Mohamed Salah went one better in 2017-18. Alas, still no league title.
Talking of Salah, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say Liverpool currently posses one of the greatest attacking tridents in Premier League history, if not the best. Since 2016, that trio alone has scored 149 league goals between them, claimed 58 assists and created a total of 485 chances.
That’s not to discredit Yorke, Andy Cole and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Or Wayne Rooney, Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez. But you can be pretty certain Klopp wouldn’t swap any of his current three for United’s superstar attackers of years gone by.
Their defence doesn’t look too shabby either. Ballon d’Or contender Virgil van Dijk has been as good as any centre-back that’s played in English football and has been arguably better than either of Nemanja Vidic or Rio Ferdinand, United’s best central defensive partnership of the last decade.
Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson are the envy of Europe at the moment and none of the Red Devils’ full-backs can boast the sort of numbers they’re producing in this Liverpool team.
Last season, they provided 23 assists between them in the Premier League, with the England right-back’s total of 12 earning him a place in the Guinness Book of Records.
Indeed, go back 20 years to United’s treble-winning season and not one of the players in that squad can match their assist output.
The eternally vaunted midfield of David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Roy Keane and Paul Scholes produced 20 assists between them. Add in Teddy Sheringham and you get to 23 and parity with the Reds’ buccaneering duo.
At first glance, it seems outlandish but United ‘only’ collected 79 points that memorable season in 1999, 18 fewer than Liverpool two decades later. The immediate prize for Liverpool on Sunday has been being able to equal Manchester City’s record of 18 league wins in a row. Eighteen – that number Liverpool seem unable to escape.
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In the six full seasons since Ferguson retired, United have averaged 20 wins. Not enough to take them close to a title win but 20 has a significance to them, just like 18 does to Liverpool.
You can improve, you can decline, but some things are seemingly set in stone.
Is this the year Liverpool finally break the shackles and move on to No.19?