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Liverpool best? Klopp's lot versus King Kenny's title winners

Liverpool's Premier League record in 2019/20 automatically makes them one of the best teams the country has ever seen, but with English football's on-going suspension their place in the history books, and their place in the collective memory as one of the greats, is under threat.

It may well be that an asterisk undermines Jurgen Klopp's extraordinary achievement.

Not so in the city of Liverpool, where supporters will never forget what they have already witnessed at Anfield in the last 12 months. Here, we take a look at how Klopp's soon-to-be title winners compare to the last Liverpool team that won the league, Kenny Dalglish's 1989/90 side.


TACTICAL APPROACH

No manager in world football has had a bigger impact on the tactical landscape of European football than Klopp himself, and so his team are at the cutting edge of what the game stands for in 2020: gegenpressing, swirling possession football, immaculate organisation of overall shape, and assertive vertical passing into the forwards.

But aside from the ruthlessness of Liverpool's positional play to achieve high-line, high-pressing attacking football, Klopp has also introduced individualised styles of attack that mark them out from their rivals. The full-backs, for example, play a crucial role as playmakers, bursting forward and drifting infield to create chances in the spaces that open up when opponents are drawn narrow to track Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah. The interactions between those two and Roberto Firmino are extraordinary.

By comparison, the 1989/90 side could not come close to competing tactically; football has changed almost beyond recognition in the last 30 years in England. In those simpler days, it was based more on attitude and individual quality than the minutiae of tactical strategizing. Like every other big English club, Liverpool in the late 1980s played a 4-4-2 that focused on partnerships: the strikers dovetailed; on central midfielder ran forward and the other held; and one full-back overlapped and the other stayed back to defend.


ATTITUDE AND PHILOSOPHY

However, football is not a purely technical game and teams should only be judged by the strength of the era they were in. In that regard, both Liverpool sides share a central ethos of possession football and attacking with gusto via three dazzling forwards.

Strikers Ian Rush and Peter Beardsley were supported by John Barnes to create a devastating trio in attack who scored 50 of the team's 78 league goals that season. Salah, Mane, and Firmino are similarly ruthless and dominant in the goalscoring figures, accounting for 38 of Liverpool's 66 Premier League goals for far.

Another feature both share is adaptability, grinding out a result with a powerful defensive performance one game before letting loose and attacking freely the next. That steeliness was clearly a prerequisite to success in the boggier pitches and physical, atavistic old First Division. In 2019/20, it is something for which Klopp's side do not get enough credit.

Dalglish and Klopp possess a similar attitude in terms of charisma and man-management style. Dalglish created a relaxed atmosphere in which the players could enjoy a joke with the players, but also maintained an ability to crack the whip when necessary. Klopp's loveable aura is clearly important in getting such consistently hard-working and unified displays out of his players.


LEGACY

The 1990 title was the final act of Liverpool's era of dominance. They began the next campaign in brilliant form, only for a bad patch to see Dalglish resign in February. Alan Hansen retired shortly after, and Liverpool never recovered. But the team of Rush, Beardsley, and Barnes is very fondly remembered.

It seems improbable that Klopp's 2019/20 campaign will be their last title for 30 years, and indeed the German surly won't leave for another few years. Everything is in place for the club to build on this year's expected triumph with further titles: the academy is outstanding and the scouting network continues to unearth gems from the likes of RB Salzburg.


COMBINED 11

Alisson has helped revolutionise the role of goalkeeper in Europe but Bruce Grobbelaar is a club legend and has to rank higher than the Brazilian. Virgil van Dijk is a better player than Glenn Hysen but Alan Hansen, as a club legend, is picked ahead of Joe Gomez. The current full-backs easily make it into the team.

Steve McMahon and Ronnie Whelan were important players but neither can match the intensity of Fabinho and Jordan Henderson, although Ray Houghton and John Barnes deserve a look-in higher up the pitch. Salah and Mane are symbols of the modern Liverpool and win spots up front.

Team (4-3-3): Grobbelaar; Alexander-Arnold, Hansen, Van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Fabinho, Houghton; Barnes, Mane, Salah.

Alex Keble
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Alex Keble

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