Liverpool set countless records on the way to ending their wait for the league title in three decades 2019/20. It was an incredible season and one that Kopites will appreciate forever.
But if there was one small downside to their remarkable success, it was that it may have raised expectations to levels that are beyond realistic. The Reds may have become the first team to win 20 of their 21 opening matches in a major European league last semester – to use an example of a ridiculous performance they criticized – but such things are a record for the fact that they do not usually happen .
This has helped to increase the perception that Jürgen Klopp’s side has not started their title defense very strongly. Obviously, their significant deviation at Villa Park played a big part in that, but the only other match where they lost points was on a field where they had only won one of their eight previous visits.
And in the end, while their absurdly good start to last season allowed them to win the league in style, Liverpool did not need 99 points to finish first. Manchester City finished in second place with 81 points, so the 82 reds had accumulated when the lockdown took place in the UK finally proved to be enough to become champions.
That’s why Liverpool can keep the title without having van Dijk on their side. They do not have to be as good as they were last season, just better than everyone else, and evidence suggests that they may be.
Despite their uneven end to 2019/20 when the title had been secured and the heavy defeat for Aston Villa, the Reds still comfortably have the best long-term form in their division. Liverpool have earned 94 points from their previous 38 league games, with City being second best with 79.
If points per match average from the last “season” were maintained for the rest of 2020/21, the defending champions would finish with 92 points while Pep Guardiola’s team would have 77. In other words, Liverpool can afford to take a dip in their long-term shape and see City improve and still finish the top of the pile.
The Reds have also marked a milestone that has proved strangely significant in the past. Research by Pinnacle has revealed that there have only been three occasions since 1995/96 where the final Premier League champion was outside the top four after six matches had been played.
Manchester United were the first to defeat this rule of thumb, 2002/03, before City did so in 2013/14 and Chelsea recovered from a poor start to win the league in 2016/17. And with Liverpool in the top four this season along with Everton, Aston Villa and Leicester, while no other “big six” side is in the top eight (although the Manchester sides could be among the top six if they won their matches by hand ), the Reds are currently well placed to defend their title.
Klopp’s side also have more points than five of the ten previous champions after playing six matches, and are just a shadow below the average of 13.8 points accumulated by the title winners at this time in the last decade.
Despite this prediction models as FiveThirtyEight’s , and even the bookmakers, believe that City will win the league (although the former are much stronger in favor of the citizens than the latter are). So how many more points does Liverpool need if they are to disrupt the odds this season?
Obviously with so many matches left, it’s very difficult to say. The team that finished second, however, has received an average of 81.7 points in the last ten seasons, where the runners only topped the sum on four occasions. Exclude Red’s 97 points from last season, of interest, and the average drops to exactly 80.
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But if we set 82 as the title’s winning goal, then Liverpool need 69 points from their remaining 32 games, at a rate of 2.16 per game. Their last round of the many matches from which they earned less than 69 points ended in August 2018, but a fact that will worry Kopites is that Klopp did not control the Reds to such a sum before van Dijk came to the club.
But he also did not have Alisson Becker in goal, nor Joe Gomez as a cornerstone of the defense. Fabinho had not yet turned red, the idea of signing Thiago Alcantara would have been dismissed as a ridiculous pipe dream, and the top three had no deputies with Diogo Jota’s pace and skill.
In a compressed, intense season without the influence of fans, it is impossible to know how any team will perform until now. Liverpool looks very good for another title tipping, even without their tough Dutch midfielder.