In cycling, there’s a dictum that, early on in the race, it’s best not to escape from the pack all by yourself. Because when you break away from the peloton early in the course, going it alone makes for harder work. There’s nobody to help keep the pace, nobody in whose slipstream you can coast every now and again when you need a rest. There’s only you, racing yourself. And most of the escapees are reeled back in by the mob, their energy spent.
This, of course, is a metaphor for Liverpool and its gargantuan lead in the Premier League. The gap with second-place Manchester City now spans a yawning 22 points, meaning the Reds could lose more than half of their 13 remaining games and still win their first league title since 1990. And they haven’t lost a league game yet, of course, winning 24 and tying one.
The mediocrity of all the other teams in the league, and namely the five other members of the “Big Six” – City, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United – who have all failed to put together a sustained title challenge, has been striking. Much like in Leicester City’s shock 2015-16 title-winning campaign, the major clubs all had a conspicuous down-year in unison. Save for Liverpool, of course.
Even City, which rampaged to the last two titles with record point hauls, is badly diminished in its efficiency, even though the players are almost entirely the same and the key squad members still very much in their primes. And everybody else is a cheaper incarnation of their old selves, whether it be because of bad management (United), a rebuild and a transfer ban (Chelsea), a decade of shoddy planning and recruitment (Arsenal), or the ending of a cycle not properly anticipated (Spurs).
Yet none of that should diminish Liverpool’s accomplishment as it marches unstoppably to the title.
Its triumph will be no less impressive for being entirely predictable since before Christmas. Liverpool has gone largely unchallenged since the 3-1 home victory over City on Nov. 10, which opened a nine-point lead that seemed insurmountable even then, given the chasm in form. It only got bigger as the two-time defending champions won just two of five in the span of a month. Leicester kept up for a while, but four losses in six from mid-December to mid-January put an end to that as well. Liverpool was home free.
Jurgen Klopp’s brilliant, swaggering, unprecedented side, breaking its own record for the best start to a league season every week, and not letting up two-thirds of the way through the year, has done it by itself. It’s been peerless at the top, following last season’s Champions League title and club-record points total in the league, which still fell short of Guardiola’s City.
And the thing is, City was neck-and-neck with Liverpool the entire way last season en route to its second straight league title with a whopping 98 points. That created an unrelenting pressure, an urgency in every game to claw out the points. It forced City to win its last 14 league games in a row and still only take the title by a point, while Liverpool won its last nine – ultimately losing the trophy with the 0-0 tie at cross-town rivals Everton on Matchday 29.
But during that astonishing stretch run, as the two juggernauts hurtled to the finish line, gobbling up all the points available to them, there were lots of close calls. City won five of its last 11 games by a single goal and four of those winners came in the second half. In one instance, a 1-0 win over Leicester on the penultimate day of the season, it had to come from a low-probability long-distance shot from veteran defender Vincent Kompany – his only goal of the season. Liverpool, likewise, only kept the pace because of an 81st-minute penalty against Fulham, a 90th-minute Toby Alderweireld own goal against Spurs, and an 86th-minute Divock Origi winner against Newcastle on the second-to-last day of the season.
All season long, Liverpool and City pushed each other on, forcing the other to find solutions, to eke out wins, to be slightly better than they really were, to gasp in just enough air to stick around in a breathless title race.
This time around, Liverpool has nobody to measure itself against, no foe breathing down its neck in the dying minutes of the tricky away games, creating tension and raising the stakes. During this remarkable season, Liverpool has stood alone, both literally and figuratively. And it has done it while competing – or at least showing up – in five different competitions.
They have retained that kind of focus with the pressure long since dissipated. They have hewn this close to perfection – with only two points dropped and a pace on course for 110 points out of 114. And they’ve done it when a team would be forgiven for letting up and turning its focus to its European title defense.
All of this magnifies the historic nature of this side. The Reds aren’t merely on pace to do compile a historic record, but they are doing it way out in front, without another rider in sight to help dictate the tempo.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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