Some football clubs have enjoyed much success and trophy wins throughout their history, that it is extremely difficult to match former achievements.
So when one of the world’s most successful football clubs enjoys a league season which surpasses anything produced by their great teams and players of the past, there’s an assumption that the efforts would result in silverware.
The above description can be said of Real Madrid’s incredible 2009-2010 La Liga season – and it is equally true of Liverpool’s remarkable 2018-19 Premier League campaign.
Given the honours of the two clubs and their status within the two respective leagues, setting new benchmarks for any measure of high performance is no mean feat.
Manuel Pellegrini’s Real Madrid secured a club record of 96 points and 31 wins in a league season, which smashed the existing league records of 87 points and 28 wins in a 38 match season. But by the end of the best league season in Real Madrid’s illustrious history, even that wasn’t good enough to finish on top, thanks to Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team.
Club records for league wins and points were also set by Liverpool in the most recent Premier League campaign – Jurgen Klopp’s third full season at Anfield. With 30 league wins, Liverpool matched the tally of victories recorded by the 1978-79 team which is widely considered as Liverpool’s best league season, although Bob Paisley’s team achieved the feat in 42 games.
As with Real Madrid nine years earlier, Liverpool’s efforts were good enough only for second place thanks to a team managed by Pep Guardiola.
Guardiola’s Barcelona team produced a league season unlike anything previously seen in any top European league when he guided his Barcelona team to La Liga success in 2009-10 – a year after winning a league, domestic cup and Champions League “treble” in his first season as manager.
Despite high expectations after Guardiola’s arrival at Man City, success wasn’t instant. But a second season resulted in the delivery of a league title in record-breaking fashion, and unfortunately for Liverpool, Man City were in equally formidable form again this season, with success arriving not only in the defence of their Premier League crown, but also in winning every other domestic trophy available.
With Barcelona and Real Madrid in 2009/10 and Man City and Liverpool in 2018/19 all performing as close to perfection as is realistically possible in such competitive leagues, the statistics of the four clubs are naturally quite similar for the respective seasons.
But there’s also a similarity in how Barcelona and Man City each came out on top when pursued by a team also achieving a remarkably high level of results – and that is shown in the head-to-head record.
Guardiola’s teams came out on top in both seasons, in terms of points gained against their biggest rivals. To illustrate the importance of the outcome in those matches, it’s worth noting that if the results from the two games between the title rivals were removed, there would have been a different outcome in both of the seasons described.
Barcelona finished three points ahead of Real Madrid, but won home and away against their rivals. Remove those two games, and the league would show that Real Madrid took 96 points to Barcelona’s 93 based on results against the rest of the league.
Similarly, Guardiola’s Man City took four points in two closely contested matches against Liverpool. Aside from those fixtures, the league table would show that Liverpool won 96 points against the other 18 opponents, compared to City’s 94 points.
It demonstrates the astonishing level of consistency by Real Madrid and Liverpool in accumulating points against teams below them in the table. But football leagues are, after all, decided by the number of points gained against every team, and when margins between first and second are so fine, it’s clear just how critical it is to gain points in fixtures against major rivals – not only to help build a points advantage, but also to allow for the odd unexpected slip-up in other matches.
In both 2009/10 and 2018/19, Pep Guardiola’s team dropped more points than their title challengers in games they would have been most expected to win. Barcelona’s all-conquering side drew with Almeria, and lost to an Atletico Madrid team who were struggling to simply finish in the top half.
Man City lost three times during December, including a home loss to Crystal Palace and a defeat away to Leicester, before also losing at Newcastle despite having led the match for more than an hour.
In contrast, Liverpool experienced no such shock results, and performed at such a consistent level that they won every one of their 20 games against the teams finishing in the bottom half. Expecting Liverpool to have won one or two of the games which they drew – in addition to the 30 matches that the Reds actually won – would be to demand the unrealistic.
In missing out on winning the Spanish title in 2010, Real Madrid might have looked back at results away to Osasuna and Sporting Gijon as possible games which had cost the club, but again, it’s easy to pick out a tiny number of isolated matches that were considered disappointing, and to ponder over what could have been.
In reality, there is little more that either team could possibly have done better. Both Real Madrid in 2010 and Liverpool in 2019 performed at a level which most teams will never achieve.
That Barcelona and Man City were, by the smallest margins, even better, is simply bad luck for the teams who missed out, although to even compete at such a high level for the whole season demonstrates the quality possessed by those who pushed Guardiola’s brilliant teams so close.
In the subsequent seasons, Real Madrid continued to compete closely with Barcelona, and haven’t done too badly in terms of the silverware collected during the last the decade.
And while there can never be a guarantee of future silverware, no matter how impressively a team performs, it’s safe to say that Liverpool look well set up to continue competing at the very highest level – and on the evidence of the most recent Premier League season, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a Liverpool captain celebrating a league championship win in the coming years.