European Champions, Super Cup Champions, World Champions and now Premier League Champions, are Liverpool finally a dominant force in football again? You would think by accomplishing these accolades in the space of a year that the answer is simple, but this is Liverpool, nothing is simple, not for a very long time. They are a team that has always done everything the hard way, but what has now clicked and how have they gotten to this top position in world football?
Liverpool has always been regarded as one of the traditional powerhouses of world football, along with Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Manchester United. It was really only at the turn of the 1960s that they made a name for themselves and would kickstart their path to glory. Bill Shankly took over the club and engineered their rise from the ashes by guiding them back to the First Division in 1964, after seven long years away. Shankly was adored right from the off by supporters and this love continued to grow with each kick of a football. He instilled a different mentality than was ever seen before at the club. He introduced Liverpool’s first all-red kit, as he wanted it to symbolize power and danger. No more than two years after gaining promotion back to the peak of English football by winning the Second Division, Shankly won Liverpool the First Division league title in 1966.
This was only the beginning for Shankly and Liverpool’s success. They went on to make a name for themselves in Europe by reaching a semi-final and final in quick succession. Sadly they came up short, but something special was brewing. An FA Cup was added to the trophy cabinet in 1965 and 1974, as well as another league title in 1973. This signalled the beginning of what would be a successful few years to come for the reds. During the 1970s and 1980s, no one would have dared pose the question if Liverpool were a dominant force in football, as they were THE dominant force. This was their ‘golden era’.
Shankly had taken Liverpool from a second division club to one of the biggest clubs in Europe by asserting dominance and a philosophy that was a breath of fresh air. Liverpool’s first European success came in 1973 in a UEFA Cup final win against Borussia Möenchengladbach. The following year they were met with shock as Shankly announced his resignation, but what he had built became a platform for the success that followed. He will go down as one of Liverpool’s greatest ever managers, along with his successor.
Bob Paisley took over from Shankly in 1974, a role that was a lot to live up to, but Paisley did just that and more. The Paisley era was the most successful in Liverpool’s history. With players like Kenny Dalglish, Kevin Keegan, Ian Rush and Graeme Souness to name a few, it was a team of winners. In Paisley’s time there, he would win six league titles, three European cups and nine domestic trophies. He made Liverpool the dominant force in England and Europe by carrying on what Shankly had started. He was the first manager to win three European Cups with the same team.
Without Paisley and Shankly, Liverpool wouldn’t be the club that they are. After Paisley’s departure in 1983, Joe Fagan and Kenny Dalglish both had successful stints by bringing in more silverware, with the latter bringing them their 18th league title. They maintained the club’s dominant status in both England and Europe, but once Dalglish resigned in the early 1990s, their dominance began to slip.
With Liverpool’s final title coming in 1990, the rest of the decade was a decline and fall from grace of one of Europe’s best clubs. With the success of the previous two decades, Liverpool were about to get a rude awakening that would last for almost three decades. Managers like Graeme Souness, Roy Evans and Gérard Houllier all tried to emulate the success of the past, but all failed. Their spells were all underwhelming as they struggled to win silverware. Liverpool went from winning league titles and European championships, to only winning two domestic trophies in the whole of the 1990s.
It was a bad time for the club and an effect that is still felt to this day. The lack of silverware during this period is what Liverpool have been trying to make amends for the past 30 years. The only positives to come out of this era was the young talent coming through in the form of Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen, Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard. With these talents emerging in the late ’90s, there was hope for a resurgence in the following years.
The 2000s were definitely a time of mixed emotions for the club that started so positively, with a treble win in 2001 when they won the FA Cup, UEFA Cup and League Cup. This was to be Houllier’s only success at the club, as his popularity dropped off before his departure for Rafael Benítez in 2004. This was a recurring theme for the club, it would be one step forward, two steps back, just when you thought they were getting back to their best, they would fall away.
In Benítez’s debut season, he pulled off the ‘Miracle in Istanbul’ when he guided the club to their fifth European Cup in 2005. Liverpool came back from a three-goal deficit at half time against one of the best AC Milan teams ever seen. This gave him legendary status at the club and brought hope back for fans. The next season he would add more silverware by winning the FA Cup, in another exhilarating 3-3 final, ultimately defeating West Ham on penalties. They then reached another European final in 2007, again facing off against Milan, though this time ended on the losing side. After this, trophies dried up and the disastrous takeover from Tom Hicks and George Gillet all combined to bring the club into their worst spell in history.
Benítez was sacked from the club after public spats with the owners in 2010 leading to the appointment of Roy Hodgson, a misjudged appointment, to say the least. Boston-based Fenway Sports Group took over the club in 2010, after an intense legal battle, and soon made their mark on the club by sacking Hodgson and bringing in club legend Kenny Dalglish. While his spell is not held in high regard, he did end the club’s six-year trophy drought by winning the League Cup in 2012. The bold move to get rid of a club legend was taken by FSG, replacing him with an inexperienced and young manager in Brendan Rodgers in 2012. Rodger’s charismatic personality and dedication to attacking football gained popularity amongst fans.
The 2013/14 season is when the atmosphere and hope were truly instilled back into the club due to the new style of play and world-class players. Luis Suárez was at the forefront of this along with Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge. They had one of the best title runs the club had seen in years, but fell just short at the final hurdle with slips against Chelsea and Crystal Palace. Just when it looked like Liverpool were closing in on becoming a success again, Suárez left for Barcelona and the following season was a complete flop. This, combined with the departure of Gerrard, meant club morale was at an all-time low. Rodgers could never steady the sinking ship after this and met his end in October 2015. Enter Jürgen Klopp.
No one knew what was about to happen at Liverpool Football Club after the German’s appointment. He was a big name in Europe after his successful spell with Borussia Dortmund, but could he be the one to restore Liverpool to their glory days? One date stands out in memory early in Klopp’s spell that gave us an idea of what he was doing at the club, 23 January 2016. This was Liverpool’s 5-4 comeback win against Norwich that saw Adam Lallana bag a 95th-minute winner.
This was a landmark game for Klopp and the first glimpse of the mentality in the team that we associate them with today. While a win against Norwich may not seem like a big deal, it became significant in a much wider context away from this one result. It was a game full of emotions that had fans on the edge of their seats, something of a rarity for Liverpool fans in recent memory. The “never say die” attitude to go to the final whistle even after multiple setbacks throughout that match was an indicator of the things to come under the German. That win against Norwich would be the first last gasp winner for them under Klopp, in what his team have since become renowned for, almost like Manchester United under Alex Ferguson.
Saluting the fan’s arm in arm after a 2-2 draw at home to West Brom is a moment that has been mocked by rival fans, but it was a moment of great importance for the club. A late Divock Origi goal at the death to snatch a draw was another example of their refusal to accept defeat, and the celebration was to show their collectivism as a team.
This made Liverpool fans believe in him and what he was trying to accomplish. It was only the beginning. This would become a recurring theme for Klopp’s side, but then they would go and blow teams away so they didn’t need a late equalizer. They were succeeding in multiple ways, always finding a way to win. This was one of the pillars that built the team of today, the ‘mentality monsters’ as Klopp often referred to them as.
One of the most impressive things the German has done has been his management of players and his success at making every one of them better. None of the players were superstars before coming to Liverpool; he has since transformed them into world beaters. The business in the transfer market was exceptional, something that Liverpool struggled with for almost 20 years. The signings could not have gone any better, and this is something that can be overlooked, but it is one of the biggest reasons for where they are now. The business that Michael Edwards has conducted is a key factor in the success the club is now experiencing.
One thing that always hindered Liverpool’s ability to take that extra step forward was poor transfers coming in and the inability to replace key players going out. You knew Liverpool had turned a corner when they lost Philippe Coutinho, arguably their most effective player at the time, and replaced him with Virgil van Dijk, and a few months later Alisson Becker. This is one of the best pieces of transfer business ever done in recent memory.
With the addition of Van Dijk into the team, Liverpool became much stronger in defence, whilst still blowing their rivals out of the water and producing huge results in Europe. They were no longer seen as this mid-table club, they were becoming genuine contenders. They were producing the best-attacking football in the world with their front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané destroying all defences in their path. Calmness and stability were added to the defence, something that Liverpool had always lacked.
For the first time in a long time, they looked like they had no weaknesses. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson were redefining the full-back roles by working tirelessly getting up the pitch to aid in attacks. Every player gave 100% both going forward and getting back. Anfield had become a fortress again, the atmosphere was the best it had been in years and teams feared going there. The 2017/18 season was a landmark season where everything Klopp had worked on was taking shape. While 2016/17 was a huge stepping stone, we really saw the potential of this team the following season. Liverpool would finish 4th in the league and runner up in the Champions League.
The 2018/19 season was Liverpool’s best for a very long time, in my lifetime anyway. This was the season where all of the previous four years of work would fall into place. Everything that Klopp had put into place at the club was now in full gear, and they looked like they were on the brink of greatness. They had their highest points tally ever in the Premier League, finishing on 97, losing just once. This one loss proved to be the killer blow in one of the greatest title run-ins in history, with a 2-1 defeat to Manchester City, the inevitable league winners. Liverpool finished runners up, trailing City by one point, a battle unlike any other seen before in the league that showed how dominant both these sides were. Liverpool went unbeaten at home for their second season in a row. While they fell just short in the league, they went all the way in Europe.
Liverpool’s Champions League campaign was unforgettable, none more so than their semi-final against Barcelona. After a dismal 3-0 first-leg defeat in the Nou Camp, Liverpool had it all to do in the return leg at Anfield. This match alone was the epitome of everything Klopp had been working on at the club. No one gave Liverpool a chance, they needed four goals against a team with Lionel Messi and Suárez that had just decimated them one week previous. Two goals apiece from Georginio Wijnaldum and Divock Origi sent Liverpool through to the Champions League final in Madrid, in what is quite possibly one of the greatest comebacks of all time.
This is where everything began to peak for Liverpool. It was the crowning point of a team about to achieve greatness. From celebrating arm in arm after a draw against West Brom to doing it in a Champions League semi-final against Barcelona. I still get goosebumps listening to the Kop’s rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ that night, there simply isn’t anything quite like it. They had just witnessed something truly special. They knew at this point that they would go on to win it and they did just that with a 2-0 win against Tottenham. This was Klopp’s first trophy as Liverpool manager.
Once this Liverpool team had finally gotten their hands on silverware, the mentality that was instilled in them meant that they wanted more, they needed more. They followed up the Champions League win by winning the UEFA Super Cup, and then the FIFA Club World Cup. Three trophies back to back, they liked the taste of success and wanted more. They have dominated the Premier League this season in a bid to go one step further and get their first title in 30 years.
The hurt from finishing runners up last season was a major driving force to their strong start, combined with their success in Europe, this felt like it was going to be their year. They won their opening eight matches before being halted to a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford, but this wouldn’t stall their progress. They then went on an 18-game league winning streak to equal the league record. Just when it looked like they could potentially do an invincible season, Watford ruined the party with a 3-0 win, a shock to say the least. With another win following this and 29 games played, Liverpool were 25 points clear of Manchester City and had one hand on the title.
No team has ever dominated the Premier League like Liverpool have this season, what they are achieving is nothing short of excellence. They have completely blown every club out of the water in their bid to end 30 years of hurt. This is a different beast of a team than we have ever seen before, almost unstoppable. They had just reached three European finals in a row, and although two suffered in loss, it was the third that would be their victory dance. They needed to suffer to achieve this, because every loss hurt them and made them stronger. This was the mentality that Klopp had injected into them.
What Jürgen Klopp has done with this club is something that that no other manager could do in this era, make them winners. They are a dominant force in football again for the first time since their golden generation of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Teams now fear playing Liverpool, they are almost mentally defeated before the game has started. This presence is something that no Liverpool side in the Premier League has ever had. They are so determined to succeed, to win at all costs. When they do finally lift the trophy that they have waited for so long, it will be bittersweet and all down to one man, Jürgen Klopp. He has brought them from a mid-table club to the best team in the world in just five years, simply sensational. The glory days are back for Liverpool, finally.