Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund achieved what so few teams have done in the Bundesliga and dominated Bayern Munich for two seasons winning back-to-back domestic titles from 2010.
The next season they finished a full 25 points behind Bayern, and though they did magnificently in Europe beating Real Madrid on the way to an agonising extra-time Champions League final defeat to their rivals, they were never the same force in domestic competition again.
Although Liverpool have only won one Premier League title, it would take the harshest of pundits to not recognise their 97-point second place in 2018/19 as a better achievement than 50% of the Premier League winners – especially given their Champions League triumph.
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It is easy to point to Virgil Van Dijk’s injury as the reason for their demise but before Sunday's humbling to Manchester City with the notable exception of the ridiculous 7-2 defeat to Aston Villa, when the Dutch defender was on the field - it is hard to pinpoint blame on the defence for the Reds being nine wins worse off than they were last year.
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Is it too simplistic to think the Klopp system which teams find impossible to deal with is equally hard to perform beyond a couple of seasons? That the physical toll of his famous Gegenpress is too hard to maintain for longer?
Klopp was not the first manager to look to press opponents high in the opposition half, Arrigo Sacchi did so with AC Milan and Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, if not quite with the ubiquitous zeal of Klopp’s Liverpool.
Guardiola was of course influenced by Marcelo Bielsa whose teams have generally tended to fade in the last third of seasons.
With the exception of Mo Salah, none of Liverpool’s midfield or attacking players have played at the same level they did last year.
Sadio Mane, the pick of Liverpool’s terrific triumvirate as they romped to the title, has scored seven Premier League goals so far and will not get close to the 18 he managed in 2019/20.
Similarly, Trent Alexander-Arnold needs another 10 Premier League assists to match last year’s tally of 13.
Obviously other teams should get better against systems of play the more they come up against them, but this seems more a case of a drop from Liverpool rather than a raise in general standards.
There are mitigating circumstances. Their 2019/20 campaign ended on July 26, over two months later than most campaigns - although the title was won a month before - and the unique conditions of these two seasons have taken a mental and physical toll on every team, but especially perhaps one built around perennial energy.
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Sacchi talked about his pressing being “psychological as much as physical”, in Jonathan Wilson’s Inverting the Pyramid, as Milan's opponents would come into games already half-beaten out of fear when they would come against them (admittedly most teams did facing Marco van Basten).
Given the way Liverpool have been humbled by Villa and lowly Brighton and Burnley, it will be hard to build a similar reputation again.
Last year, Klopp’s era seemed ready to sit alongside the glory period of the late 1970s and 1980s and certainly on the form of last season their goalkeeper, centre back, full backs and Salah or Mane would easily have graced any of the sides that won the 10 domestic title winners and four European Cups in the space of a decade and a half.
The legend of that Liverpool, like Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United down the M62, was immortalised by its longevity, ability to take on worthy challengers and outlast them all.
Will it be possible for Klopp’s side to reach the mountain-top again? If so, it seems unlikely it will be achieved in the same exhilarating manner.
Perhaps by buying Thiago, he was already looking to switch his side from high octane-pressing to one that demoralises opponents by their control of possession before going in for the kill.
If so, he has the perfect blueprint to emulate in Guardiola, whose City side only three months ago were showing signs that their own era of dominance was at an end.
Things can change quickly and the savage blow of their title defence, effectively ending a full three months before the season’s conclusion, may just be their spur to get back to the top.
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