Over the course of 420 days, between January 4, 2019, and February 28, 2020 (inclusive) Liverpool embarked on a unique journey that re-established them as not only the kings of their own domain, but also the best team on the entire planet. They won the Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup, and came agonizingly close to breaking Arsenal’s fabled unbeaten Premier League record run of 49 games set in October 2004.
Millimeters from glory
Indeed, the Reds’ great adventure might well have expanded further back, all the way to May 7, 2018 – a whole 662 days before their most recent league defeat. However, a 2-1 reverse at Manchester City on January 3, 2019, interrupted what was otherwise a phenomenal unbeaten league run.
In that pivotal match, Liverpool had gone 1-0 down at Manchester City, but equalized for 1-1 at a crucial point in the game. Prior to City’s winning goal, Liverpool saw a shot on goal cleared off the line. After a review, no goal was awarded, with just 11mm of the ball failing to cross the whitewash.
These are the key numbers attained by Liverpool in the 420 days that followed:
Liverpool accustomed to winning in style
Only a very small minority of Premier League-era league games (August 1992-present) have seen Liverpool begin as outsiders. Liverpool’s own antepost Premier League matchday betting prices during their 420-day unbeaten league run honoured this trend, even seeing them enter away matches against the respected likes of Manchester United, Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea in the role of pre-match favourites.
The final four months of 2018/19 saw Liverpool involved in a mixture of emphatic and dramatic wins, with the Anfield faithful witnessing everything from 5-0 demolitions of Huddersfield and Watford, to late shows in narrow wins over Fulham and Tottenham. Those wins represented Liverpool’s biggest in the league over their 420-day unbeaten league run. By the time Liverpool took to the field against West Ham on February 24, 2020 – for the 44th (and final) game of their unbeaten league run – the numbers were truly staggering.
Most noteworthy was the fact that they had won their last twenty home league games in succession, doing so with a clean sheet in exactly half of them. Fifteen (or 75%) of those twenty uninterrupted Premier League wins at Anfield had yielded a winning margin of two or more goals. The form of twin threats Sadio Mane and Mo Salah contributed much to that tally, as has central striker Roberto Firmino, though curiously as an exclusive ‘away day’ specialist amongst them:
Firmino’s goal at Wolves in January is the latest addition to his litany of away-day league winners.
Reds’ dominance about more than firepower
However, the efforts of those attackers named above would be for naught without men of steel behind them, and they, in particular, have undoubtedly earned the massive wages afforded to them as Premier League superstars.
Liverpool entered the final match of their unbeaten run (an eventful 3-2 victory over West Ham at Anfield) on seven straight Anfield clean sheets. In addition, they had held on for victory after a won first half in all but two of the preceding thirteen home league matches. Ten of the preceding eleven before that win over West Ham came with a clean sheet.
The man mostly behind those clean sheets was goalkeeper Allison Becker, whose commanding presence and ability to marshal the backline formed a vital part of Liverpool’s 420-day unbeaten league run. Though he entered March as the league’s best goalkeeper in every key department – such as clean sheets and saves-to-shots ratio – his job has been made infinitely easier by Liverpool’s colossal defender Virgil Van Dijk.
Many baulked at the £75m price tag that saw Van Dijk move from Southampton to Liverpool in January 2018, but those skeptics have been continually proven wrong. Notably, Van Dijk entered March leading in the shutout stakes for outfield defenders, alongside the second-best ‘Influence’ coefficient (739.0) within official Fantasy Premier League (FPL) rankings of defenders at the same point:
Stats from the first 29 games played in the 2019/20 season only
The only man with a greater Influence coefficient (822.2) was Liverpool teammate Trent Alexander-Arnold. The Liverpool native has hit new highs so far this season, standing as by far the best provider of assists amongst homegrown British players in the Premier League roster. In fact, he stood second only to Manchester City’s midfield magician Kevin De Bruyne in the overall assists chart going into March.
Where does Liverpool’s unbeaten run rank?
As already established, 44 Premier League games unbeaten is second only to Arsenal’s tally of 49, with Arsenal’s class of the 2003/04 season still the only side ever to go an entire league campaign unbeaten. Nonetheless, those 44 games dwarf many runs concocted by other teams before them.
Those 44 games certainly represent the Reds’ longest such run in the Premier League era of top-flight football. Furthermore, April 2020 will mark three years since Liverpool’s last league defeat at Anfield.
There can be no doubt that Liverpool’s 3-0 defeat at Watford on 29 February felt like a watershed moment in the Jürgen Klopp regime. People are skeptical over Liverpool’s chances of getting anywhere near 44 league games unbeaten – let alone the mythical 50 that would beat Arsenal’s long-standing record.
Such an overriding feeling is natural, but Liverpool have only ever been at their strongest in the face of a near-universal expectation of failure. There are still plenty of records yet to fall, and they remain with the correct personnel on and off the field to break them.