As of this week, Liverpool’s wait for a league title has surpassed the 26 year wait Manchester United endured, to many taunts, until 1993.
Liverpool fans believe that next year will be their year under Jurgen Klopp, and the German appears to be getting his team into a greater groove after their inconsistent start, but this long awaited milestone is worth looking back over.
Their 1990 triumph was followed by years of mediocrity, and false dawns, and more mediocrity. Their influence in deciding league titles came in games where they were relied upon to get a result, with their only realistic title pushes coming in 2009 and 2014. We look at Liverpool’s most notable contributions in the title race since their last victory.
1992 – Liverpool 2-0 Man Utd
The last year of the ‘football league’ championship came down to a battle between Leeds United and Manchester United. The Reds had hoped a Rumbelows Cup triumph over Nottingham Forest would spur them onto the ultimate glory but the truth is that the Wembley triumph did little to mask an alarming lack of goals in the closing weeks of the season – and so Leeds closed in, and were a point clear on the penultimate weekend.
Howard Wilkinson’s team won 3-2 at Sheffield United, which meant Man Utd needed to win at Anfield in order to keep the pressure on. Goals from Rush and Walters did for the visitors, whose supporters were left to wonder if their chance would ever come again.
1994 ‘Come back when you’ve won 18’
The 1993 title triumph featured a win at Anfield. The next year, United, freed of that particular monkey from their back, ran away with the league. A 3-3 draw at Anfield in winter was entertaining and memorable; memorable for the game, and for the banner held aloft by the home fans which said ‘Come back when you’ve won 18’.
1997 ‘We won the Premier League this time on Merseyside’
A Gary Pallister double (yes, really), and an Andy Cole third, gave United a 3-1 win at Liverpool, in a game which all but decided the league.
2009 – Liverpool and United go head to head – Gerrard kisses camera
United’s years in the title wilderness had lasted from 2003 until 2007, when the run-in included a priceless injury time winner from John O’Shea. That March win provided much needed momentum which propelled United into back to back title wins. And in the 2008/09 season, as they sought to achieve three in a row (and equal that ‘18’), it was fitting that Liverpool emerged as the likeliest contenders following a wobble from perennial challengers Chelsea.
Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez stoked the flames of a battle which barely needed it, and showed signs of the pressure getting to him – but, in a March clash between the clubs, the Scousers achieved a powerful 4-1 win at Old Trafford against a United side putting in one of their worst performances in years. Steven Gerrard scored a penalty, and celebrated by kissing the camera – an act of arrogance which suggested he believed the title was in their hands.
Liverpool went on to show title winning form afterwards – winning 8 out of 9 games. But United’s own recovery was fine – they too won 8 and drew 9 of their last 9 games, with the single point in the draw at Arsenal ironically being enough to decide the title, and render Gerrard’s antics to an embarrassing act.
2010 – Liverpool gift Chelsea crucial victory to prevent United achieving 19
Gerrard became something of a central figure over the forthcoming years. In 2010, Liverpool had dropped out of the title picture well and truly, but when Chelsea came to town for a late-season visit, United fans found themselves almost hoping for their hated rivals to do them a favour.
Of course, with United closing in on their 19th title, and with it closing on the accolade of becoming England’s most successful club, Liverpool were never going to go full throttle; their limp display was summed up with Gerrard’s casual back pass which gifted Didier Drogba the opening goal in a routine victory for the Blues.
2011 – 19
More camera kissing from Gerrard, after he’d scored twice at Old Trafford to drag Liverpool back to 2-2 in a September game at Old Trafford. And today United had the last laugh on the day, with Dimitar Berbatov’s fantastic hat-trick deciding the game in the host’s favour.
And they had the last laugh on the season too, winning the title with a draw at Blackburn to become the most successful club in England.
2014 – Liverpool ‘go again’
United were champions but it was clear they weren’t going to retain their crown after a disaster of a season under David Moyes, which included a 3-0 win for Liverpool at Old Trafford, more Gerrard goals and more kisses of the camera.
With weeks left of the season, it seemed as if Liverpool, led by Gerrard and the talented if somewhat abhorrent Luis Suarez, would win the league for the first time in 24 years.
When they defeated Manchester City, Gerrard covered his face deliberately to try and put across the impression he was crying, before gathering his team-mates into a huddle and screaming that they would not let this slip. His leadership was somewhat ostensible, given suggestions he was out celebrating the title already – and that arrogance once again provided his undoing. Not only was he culpable in an actual slip which allowed Chelsea to get a deserved victory at Anfield, but shortly afterwards, Liverpool as a team did the same thing – throwing away a 3-0 second half lead at Crystal Palace, to relinquish a Championship advantage that they never recovered.
Gerrard’s career at the club ended almost ignominiously as a mid-season announcement that he would leave meant it was certain he would leave without winning a league title, and even his final home appearance was ruined by Palace, who had inflicted such heartache the previous year.
On 10th April 2016, with Liverpool in 8th and never looking like they would be anywhere near a title charge, they were mathematically ruled out of contention of the race for the Premier League, meaning this week’s anniversary became an inevitability.