| 16.2°C Dublin

Having met their target, Liverpool are deserving of a breather

Jurgen Klopp's men would love to have rewritten the record books but history shows that it's not unusual for newly-crowned champions to take their foot off the gas during run-in


Liverpool's Mohamed Salah. Photo: Reuters

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah. Photo: Reuters

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah. Photo: Reuters

Having gone 30 years to claim the title, the wait for Jurgen Klopp and his players to finally get their hands on the trophy is starting to feel similarly excruciating.

Liverpool suffered another stumble during the longest lap of honour in Premier League history with defeat at Arsenal. Amid the disappointment, Klopp and Virgil van Dijk said next week's presentation ceremony cannot come soon enough.

The delay is akin to clapping a marathon runner across the line before telling them that, rather than stand on the podium, they must carry on for a few more miles until everyone else has finished.

For four weeks.

Even the guard of honour feels tiresome. Liverpool's players wanted the trophy a month ago, not meek, occasionally insincere applause.

With bonus targets such as a 100 per cent home run and 100 points now off the agenda, you could sense Van Dijk's relief that the extended title procession will soon be over.


Klopp and his players will argue there has been thin evidence of an intensity deficit in the past month. The sight of Mohamed Salah cursing when missing out on a hat-trick at Brighton, Andy Robertson remonstrating with match officials after the draw with Burnley, and Van Dijk chastising himself after his error at the Emirates, were signs of how much rewriting the record books would have meant.

But a general drop was inevitable once the prime target of the season was reached, Liverpool's seven remaining fixtures an exercise in finding meaning in the broadly meaningless.

Having dropped only seven from a possible 93 points prior to confirming the championship, Liverpool have sacrificed eight from 15 since.

The Halfway Line Newsletter

Get the lowdown on the Irish football scene with our soccer correspondent Daniel McDonnell and expert team of writers with our free weekly newsletter.

This field is required

According to Opta, Liverpool have averaged fewer tackles, their players have won significantly fewer duels, they have made fewer interceptions and - in a sign of being off the pace - committed more fouls when comparing the five matches since and preceding filling the dance floor at Formby Golf Club on June 25.

A symptom of post-championship relaxation? Or a consequence of the lack of supporters driving the side on? Probably both.

Liverpool have still won two of those five fixtures and - ironically given the result - some statistics were significantly improved against Burnley and Arsenal; the champions' average shot and shot-on-target ratio surpassing pre-lockdown figures.

The psychological challenge of finding motivation when a career ambition has been satisfied is neither novel, nor surprising. The amazing Manchester City side of 2018 bucked a trend when winning four of their five remaining games post-title celebrations.

The earliest a team was confirmed champions before that was Manchester United in 2001. Alex Ferguson's side won only one of their last five games, losing their final three against Derby County, Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur. United lost three of their previous 35.

Those who have gone through similar experiences relate to the challenge.

"It is very difficult to keep that hunger when the title is won," says Nigel Winterburn, three times a title winner with Arsenal.

"OK, there is that professional pride, but when you are striving so hard to win something and then you achieve that goal, there is going to be a drop.

"Once you have achieved that ambition, the edge is taken off. It is not deliberate. It just takes something away from you, that release of pressure.

"We had a situation in 1998 when we won it with only a few games to go. We lost to Liverpool and Aston Villa.

"Twenty-two years on, people remember Arsenal won the double in 1998. They do not remember those last two games.

"Even then it was a different era to previous title celebrations. It certainly was not like that in '91 and, especially '89, that is for sure. We celebrated that for over a week!"

Further back, tales of post-title comedown have entered folklore, and although there have been some jibes about Liverpool players nursing hangovers - especially when they were beaten 4-0 at Manchester City - the professional standards are clearly higher.

When Everton won the title with a record five games to spare in 1985, they also lost three of their remaining games, including a 4-1 defeat to a Coventry side whose victory avoided relegation.

"You could smell the booze on the breath of the Everton players," Stuart Pearce, the Coventry full-back at the time would claim.

Graeme Sharp says the freak result was more to do with the ridiculous schedule than prolonged title celebrations, it being Everton's 63rd game of the season. Including the European Cup Winners' Cup final and FA Cup decider, Everton ended the campaign playing six games in 17 days, the last three in five days.

"I was with the Scotland squad preparing to play England and then a World Cup qualifier when I was called back and told I had to play against Coventry," recalls Sharp.

"The other clubs were complaining we were going to play our reserves, so the FA made me go back. Straight after the game, the Coventry chairman gave Andy Gray and myself a lift to the airport so we could fly out for a Scotland game in Iceland.

"There is no way that Everton side would ever have lost three out of five in usual circumstances. No chance.

"But look, you definitely take your foot off the pedal. Of course you want to do well, but it is mentally hard. I know the professional outlook is there, but even the best players in the world know the hard job is done. So while a defeat will hurt, you have a different outlook.

"You have to take the lack of fans into account as well. If you are playing in front of nobody, I don't care who you are, it is harder to get yourself up for it. It feels like an U-23 game, so it is natural if there is a drop."

Whatever Liverpool achieve in their remaining two matches, their current win-ratio as title winners is already a departure from one Anfield tradition.

Of the 15 games Liverpool played having already become champions in the 10 seasons between 1975 and 1990, they won just five.

"Our view then was it is our job to win the league, and once you have done it you can enjoy yourself," said Ian Rush, who won five of those titles.

"There was the game at Middlesbrough in 1982 when we had already won the league, so Graeme Souness asked Bob Paisley if it was all right for us to go to lunch before the match. Bob said no, but 'Souey' organised it anyway.


"Me and Ronnie Whelan were young lads and he took us to a pub he knew from being a former Middlesbrough player. I was panicking and drinking shandy, hoping to get back before Ronnie Moran found out. We still drew 0-0!

"Obviously it is completely different now. Klopp would have wanted to beat City's record of 100 points, so Liverpool still had something to go for in these last few games, but I do think there is so much pressure on the players when you think what they have achieved already."

All those who know the elation of being a title winner are agreed on one fact.

"These lads need a bit of time to chill out now," says Rush.

"They have not even been handed the Premier League trophy yet and all they have heard about is what they are going to do next.

"Now it is all about enjoying what they have done before they come back next season and start pushing hard to win it again."

© Daily Telegraph, London

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]

Most Watched