With Premier League football all but set to return in the weeks ahead, there’s little doubt that Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp will cap his fifth season at Anfield with a long awaited top flight title.
When Jordan Henderson eventually lifts the Premier League trophy to end Liverpool’s 30-year famine, the German manager would have succeeded where no less than seven other managers have failed.
But that’s not all that would set him apart from Graeme Souness, Roy Evans, Gerald Houllier, Rafa Benitez, Roy Hodgson, Kenny Dalglish and Brendan Rodgers. On many counts, Klopp’s record already puts him on track to become the most successful Liverpool manager of the Premier League era.
Indeed, with a Champions League trophy already in hand, the German’s name is already being spoken with the type of reverence usually reserved for legends like Shankly and Paisley.
The chart below, which tracks Liverpool seasons since 2001 in terms of cumulative points over the course of a season emphasises just that point. Of completed seasons, 2018/19 is clearly head and shoulders above any other, and the trend line for the yet to be concluded 2019/20 is already well on track to beat that.
That would leave Klopp with the best two Premier League seasons in Liverpool history. In terms of points won, they could well be the best two league seasons in all of Liverpool history. By contrast, it’s clear to see why 2011/12 ended with Kenny Dalglish getting the sack.
As the above chart shows, in the 30 years since their last title, Liverpool have finished above the 80 point mark on just six occasions. Gerard Houllier managed it in 2002 when the Reds finished 2nd; Rafa Benitez did it twice – in 2006 and 2009, finishing 3rd and 2nd respectively; and Brendan Rodgers’ runners-up from 2014 crested at 84 points.
The other two occasions have come under Klopp’s watch: last season’s spectacular 97 point return was impressive enough, but they had already reached 82 this season before the league was suspended – with nine matches to go – in March. Now they may very well surpass last season’s club record high – and they still remain well placed to eclipse Manchester City’s Premier League record.
What is also clear from the chart above is Liverpool’s tendency over the last 30 years to follow peaks with rapid decline – they simply have not been wont to parlay good seasons into sustained success. Houllier’s team made good progress but followed 2002 with a steady slide that eventually cost the Frenchman his job; Benitez did better but his best season in 2009 was quickly followed by his worst season in 2010; and Rodgers’ team was shipping six goals at Stoke within 12 months of their bold title tilt.
That seems to have changed under Klopp. Liverpool have this season, for the first time in the Premier League era, followed a 80 plus points season with another. They have, for the first time in the Premier League era, followed a credible title challenge with another. It’s no coincidence that Klopp’s three full seasons in charge (so far) feature prominently among Liverpool’s best Premier League seasons.
That picture will look even better for Klopp once this season is completed. The German has already surpassed his forebears by building a Liverpool team capable of consistently challenging for the top prize. His next challenge will be to avoid the pitfalls of the past and keep them at the top.