The festive period is a time for giving and where Liverpool are concerned, their gift unexpectedly arrived a little earlier than expected.
Indeed, Jurgen Klopp’s unbeaten side are top of the (Christmas) tree with four points separating the challengers from the champions after Manchester City dropped the bauble – promise that is the final festive pun – against Crystal Palace.
It means they lead the way on December 25 for the third time in the Premier League era and on paper, it largely appears to be a positive omen.
After all, only twice in the last 10 seasons has the team top at Christmas failed to go on and claim the league title. It’s only one team, too, but guess which side that happens to be? Yes, that would be Liverpool.
In 2008/09 Rafael Benitez’s tremendous Liverpool iteration was a point clear of Chelsea with 39 accrued in total, only to then lose out on domestic dominance to Manchester United. At the time United were nine points back in fourth spot.
Then came Brendan Rodgers’ galloping group of free-scoring maniacs in 2013/14.
Only goal difference separated the Reds and Arsenal with the two on 36 points each through 17 games. Neither would go on to win with City, a point back in third, tasting success.
So, what does this information tell us? Nominally, that there’s a five-year cycle where Liverpool are concerned but most notably, that being top at Christmas matters very little.
A sizable gap coming into the turn of the year is what has seen previous sides go on to secure honours.
However, on both occasions Liverpool’s lead has been slender and once again that is the scenario which faces Klopp as the Reds saddle up for a very testing fixture pile up.
In nine days the league leaders host Newcastle (December 26) and Arsenal (December 29) before travelling to City (January 3). Transitioning from the hunter to the hunted is a difficult mentality switch.
You may say this season has a different feel to it for the Reds given in 2008/09 Benitez’s side couldn’t always score while in 2013/14 they struggled to keep clean sheets.
This term, their success has been built on defensive rigidity – they’ve conceded only seven times in 18 games, the only side not to be in double figures for goals against – and across the park, it’s difficult to find holes to exploit. They can score and protect a lead to combine two traits from their previous challenges.
Yet, there is one narrative which joins those two campaigns with the current one, and it’s that Liverpool are being challenged by a supremely gifted, and most importantly, title-experienced team.
United in 2008/09 were hallmarked by prime talents like Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand. It was arguably the last truly world class United team and they thrived in the final few months of the season, dropping points only three times at the turn of the year.
In 2013/14 it was a similar story. City scored a ludicrous 102 goals and the squad under Pep Guardiola’s management right now is far better.
Liverpool’s best versions haven’t been enough and being top at Christmas is simply not enough. It’s become a festive tradition for them to be crippled when leading from the front and Klopp’s New Year’s resolution will be to try and change that.
City won’t panic and even Tottenham are in the mix. It’s not Liverpool’s trophy to throw away per say, but they’ve been capable of dishing out late gifts in the past. Ignoring the table at Christmas is perhaps their wisest move at this point.
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