Groundhog Day may have already passed but déjà vu can’t seem to escape the Reds.
In the span of a month, Liverpool’s seven-point lead atop the table has vanished. Sure, the Merseyside club have a game in hand on Manchester City at the moment, but it’ll have played the same number of matches after a trip to Old Trafford on Feb. 24 and you can rest assured arch rivals Manchester United will look to do the Reds no favours whatsoever.
All the merriment and joy for over half a season of dominance much like the City side of last season has evaporated. The pressure of not having won a domestic league title since 1989-90 — before the Premier League era even began — may be getting the best of them in recent matches, slipping in a big way in the new year. Liverpool could have hammered a massive nail in the title race with a win at Etihad Stadium against Manchester City that could have pushed their lead to 10 points. Instead, they lost to a Leroy Sané winner, and have since failed to take advantage of a City loss to Newcastle United by drawing with Leicester City and following that up with another draw with West Ham United.
City, meanwhile, bounced back with a loud 3-1 win over Arsenal and a battling 1-0 win away to Everton that signalled their intent to become the first back-to-back champions since Manchester United did so in 2007-08 and ’08-09.
If you think you’ve seen this before from Liverpool, well, you have. Here are three times in the Premier League era the Reds seemingly had one hand on the trophy but fell short.
The mid-season collapse of 2001-02
Michael Owen was at the peak of his powers fresh off winning the Ballon d’Or in 2001, Steven Gerrard was emerging as one of the best English players, while Sami Hyypia as well as Jamie Carragher were rock solid at the back. From defence to attack, Liverpool had built themselves to contend for the title and were seemingly doing everything right.
Fourteen matches into this season, Liverpool held a six-point lead over Arsenal at the top of the table and made an incredible statement with a decisive 3-1 victory over defending champions Manchester United.
Then, disaster struck. Liverpool drew at home against eventual 13th place finishers Fulham, got spanked 4-0 away to Chelsea, and dropped a crucial Anfield fixture to Arsenal 2-1. They couldn’t stop the bleeding either, collecting just seven points from their next six fixtures that included West Ham United, Bolton Wanderers, and Southampton twice.
Liverpool fell to fifth in a handful of weeks, before a remarkable run of 13 wins, one loss and one draw to finish the season second to Arsenal by seven points.
That run of eight points from a possible 27 must haunt Gérard Houllier to this day.
When all Liverpool wanted was a share of the spoils
The 2008-09 side had so much quality Gerrard was on Instagram back in 2015 reminiscing about it. The image below is that of the playing 11 that lined up for a Champions League fixture which Liverpool won 4-0 against a mighty Real Madrid side to advance with a 5-0 aggregate score to the quarterfinal stage.
Fernando Torres was a nightmare to deal with, Pepe Reina was a first-class goalkeeper, and the tandem of Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano was as difficult a central midfield duo to break down as any.
Manager Rafa Benítez made sure that class carried over to the Premier League, too.
Score the most goals? Check. Lose the fewest matches? Check. Go undefeated at home? Check. Win the title?
Incredibly, coming away with the 2008-09 Premier League trophy is the one thing Liverpool couldn’t manage, finishing second to United by four points.
How does that happen? Well, the Reds somehow drew 11 matches including a miserable stretch of drawing seven of 10 matches between late November and late January to fall short despite being on top of the table heading into the new year. Hmmm … this is starting to sound familiar.
In that stretch of draws: Fulham (finished 7th), West Ham (9th), Hull City (17th), Stoke City (12th), and Wigan Athletic (11th).
When you lose a title by four points, that hurts.
The infamous Gerrard slip
If there was a time for Ferguson’s curse to end, one would think it would have been in the first season after his retirement.
David Moyes was taking over at United and City had fallen well short of the title a year before. Over at Liverpool, Brendan Rodgers was up to something. Infusing the club with a style of play that demanded the attention and support of the fans, he accepted the growing pains in finishing sixth in ’12-13 and was ready for his side to show the fruits of their labour.
Led by Luis Suarez’s 31 goals and Daniel Sturridge’s 21, the team was doing everything right in the opposition half. There were defensive frailties at the back but Liverpool’s scintillating attack ensured they went into every match knowing they could score enough goals to win.
This time, they were peaking at the right time as well. Liverpool won 11 straight matches including what seemed a pivotal 3-2 victory at Anfield over City.
At the end of the match, one side celebrated as though they had won it all while the other looked despondent at having seemingly lost everything. Then came the unforgettable words from an emotional and almost tearful Gerrard to his teammates, “This does not [expletive] slip now!”
With three league matches left on their calendar, Liverpool held a five-point lead over second-placed Chelsea and a nine-point lead over a third-placed City that had two games in hand. That’s when those words came back to haunt the Liverpool captain.
Liverpool played Chelsea in their next match, and with both sides yet to score late into the first half, one of the defining moments of Gerrard’s career — for all the wrong reasons — happened. He slipped.
Oh, and it’s much more entertaining (for non-Liverpool fans) watching it paired with a clip of Thierry Henry reacting to a completely different moment alongside Carragher.
Demba Ba took advantage of the slip to give Chelsea the lead and the Blues eventually came away 2-0 winners. Winning their final two matches would still give Liverpool a great chance at the title, but they couldn’t manage that either. After carrying a 3-0 lead into the 78th minute against Crystal Palace, the Reds completely lost the plot.
Palace stormed back with three goals of their own, leaving the Reds with just a point to show for the match and giving City — who had won four in a row now coming off the Liverpool loss — the fairly simple equation of needing to win their final match of the season to seal the title. They did, winning the title by two points.
Based on the evidence, it would appear that Sir Alex Ferguson isn’t the only one who seems to enjoy knocking Liverpool off their perch.