Obligation is for losers. Or at least it will be if Liverpool doesn’t go all-in on winning the Premier League right this second.
That’s their obligation. And a path to doing so is as clear as ever.
Liverpool caught a break when Sadio Mané was “fouled” Saturday and James Milner’s penalty beat Leicester City. They caught another one Sunday morning, when Manchester City was shocked by Wolves at home.
This isn’t the straw that broke the camel’s back, it’s the straw that gave the camel the spine to win the league, a hump that Liverpool hasn’t gotten over in 30 years. Including last season, when Jurgen Klopp flat-out acknowledged that Liverpool fans would rather win the league than the Champions League.
They won Europe’s top club competition anyway, for the sixth time in history, one shy of every other team in England combined. Been there, done that.
They fell one point shy of Manchester City, comfortably setting a record for most points ever accrued by a team that didn’t win the Premier League in a given season. Not a heartbreaking finish, per se, at least compared to Steven Gerrard’s slip in 2014 or the underachieving behemoth of 2009 or the barely achieving “Spice Boys” of the 1990s. But the thirst for league glory lingers.
It’s time to quench it. Liverpool has an eight-point lead in the table on City. The defending champions have already slipped up twice, including a near-inconceivable upset at Norwich. They’re hampered by injuries defensively, where they can be shaky even when healthy.
They’re also really, really, really good. Pep Guardiola’s City has set a new standard for Premier League champions, smashing the record for points in a season in 2018 and becoming the first repeat champion in a decade last spring. All the principle cogs in that machine are still around.
So it’s up to Liverpool to do all it can to maintain its blistering pace. The Reds have won 17 straight PL games, including all eight to start this season, and stand one win shy of equaling City’s record. They also lean heavily on a core group of players, which was about as healthy as could be hoped for last season.
Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk started all 38 Premier League games. Sadio Mané started 36. Roberto Firmino missed just four. All told, 11 players started 28 or more (often quite more) times between the Premier League and Champions League last campaign. Liverpool also lucked out with immediate exits in the League and FA Cup.
Liverpool is fairly deep, but it’s probably not deep enough to win a treble, as City just did. And health concerns are already plaguing FIFA Best Men’s Goalkeeper Alisson, so Liverpool shouldn’t toy with fate in this regard. Don’t put extra miles on your important legs. The domestic cups deserve domestic cup-level lineups.
You know what else might? The Champions League.
It’s already clear Liverpool is more focused in the league than in Europe, losing to Napoli in its Group E opener and narrowly escaping a come-from-ahead draw vs. RB Salzburg this past week. They’re still in position to advance comfortably, and maybe they should to at least feign concern. It’s just, what’s really the cost of sneakily sandbagging it?
Competitive spirit? Make sure to re-rack that argument next time the Reds dive to earn a penalty. Integrity? Does that still exist in soccer?
You might be inclined to kowtow to the paying customers. But they’re the same fans who desperately want to win the league, right? And who enjoyed runs to three European finals in the past half-decade? They’ll live.
And if the gambit pays off, they’ll live mightily. Liverpool won the old English First Division 18 times before the advent of the Premier League in 1992. Then they watched bitter rival Manchester United surge ahead with 13 PL titles to bring their top-flight total to 20.
Six clubs have raised the PL trophy, and none of them is Liverpool, English royalty whose last three decades have been royally barren.
Any other club would be happy with Liverpool’s riches. This *isn’t* any other club. It’s not even any other giant.
The value of European and domestic glory are inverted. The Premier League is everything.
The fates are conspiring for Liverpool to treat it like such.
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