Only three members of a young squad have won the Premier League before but the Reds compare more than ably with other first-time English champions of the modern era
By George Ankers
There are just six games to go until the 2013-14 Premier League is decided and the title race is one of the most intriguing in recent memory, but the league leaders are not the outright favourites with the bookmakers.
If Liverpool win all of their remaining matches, they will be champions. The same applies to third-placed Manchester City but Manuel Pellegrini’s men have two more games to play than the Reds. The two teams face each other on April 13 so something will have to give – while Chelsea, too, are only two points behind Brendan Rodgers’ men.
Ordinarily, though, the team who have won the most points so far would be the obvious favourites but this, of course, is Liverpool – the club who have not won the English league title since 1989-90. Both City and Chelsea have lifted the trophy much more recently and are, on paper, closer to a more complete squad than the Merseysiders, who remain a work in progress.
|‘FIRST-TIME’ PL CHAMPIONS
MAN CITY (11-12)
|LIVERPOOL THIS SEASON
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has, famously, yet to win the Premier League in an otherwise glittering club career. So is that inexperience of closing out a 38-game campaign really likely to get in the way of his dream? The evidence, in fact, suggests no such thing.
Not counting Manchester United, the inaugural champions of the Premier League era, four clubs have won their ‘first’ such title since 1992: Blackburn (1994-95), Arsenal (1997-98), Chelsea (2004-05) and City (2011-12). Of that group, only the Gunners had waited less than 40 years in between top-flight triumphs and, even then, plenty had changed in the seven years since George Graham masterminded that trophy.
Only four members of that title-winning side were still there when the north Londoners did it again in 1998 – the majority of their excellent back line; David Seaman, Lee Dixon, Tony Adams and Nigel Winterburn. However, for a first-time Premier League champion, four is the highest number of squad members to have had previous experience topping the English table.
Blackburn and Chelsea had not a single such player in their ranks, while City could only boast two (Kolo Toure and Carlos Tevez). Fast-forward to the present day and Liverpool have three of their own in Glen Johnson, Daniel Sturridge and that man Toure again.
But is that fair? The Blues, of course, shipped in several big names from abroad, plenty of whom had won league titles in Spain, France and the like. However, the numbers remain surprisingly consistent when factoring in squad members of first-time title-winners who had experience of winning any professional league – top-flight or otherwise.
In that 2004-05 campaign, Chelsea’s star-studded squad had 12 ready-made champions. The same goes for Manchester City’s expensively assembled winners. Yet this Liverpool side can point to 13 league winners – Gerrard is, in fact, one of a small minority in Rodgers’s preferred XI to have not done so. Arsenal, too, had 13.
It is Rovers who are the extraordinary case here – just three of their side had won any league before and one of those, Richard Witschge, played just one game of the 1994-95 season.
Meanwhile, if goals win the games that win the title then Liverpool are exceeding the standard set by history. They are on course to score a projected 104.5 goals in 2013-14, conceding 46.3 for a difference of +58.2.
While that would see them let in more than any of the four previous first-timers, they would far outstrip the City team who rocketed in 93 at the other end. As has been well documented elsewhere, the sheer firepower of Sturridge and Luis Suarez is plainly good enough to get the job done.
If there is any deviation from the blueprint for glory, it may be in the Reds’ youth. The average age of all the players to have played a league game for Liverpool this season is 24.6, slightly behind Chelsea (25.1) and a year-and-a-half below the rest (26 for Blackburn and 26.1 for both Arsenal and City).
But, as the cliche goes: if you are good enough, you are old enough. With Liverpool’s remarkable attacking prowess this season, their at-times irrepressible style and a record that otherwise more than stands up to an historical eye – plus a real sense of momentum – there is no reason to doubt their championship credentials.
Follow George Ankers on