Jurgen Klopp

Why 2019-20 Liverpool are, aren't best team in Premier League history

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AP

Why 2019-20 Liverpool are, aren't best team in Premier League history

Programming note: Watch Liverpool's Premier League pursuit continue Saturday at 9:30 a.m. PT against Tottenham Hotspur, live on NBC and streaming on the NBC Sports app.

Liverpool are on pace to end their 30-year title drought in historic fashion.

The Reds last claimed England's top-flight championship during the 1989-90 season, just more than two years before the Premier League first kicked off. They enter Saturday's match against Tottenham Hotspur unbeaten, with 58 points (19-1-0) through 20 games.

Thirteen points clear of second-place Leicester City with a match in hand, it's not a matter of if Liverpool win the title, but when and by how much. Averaging 2.9 points per match this season, the Reds would shatter the Premier League points record (100) set by Manchester City in 2017-18 if they maintained their 110-point pace. Liverpool's plus-58 goal-differential already is better than six of the nine highest point-producers in Premier League history ... with 18 matches remaining.

With the trophy all but in the bag, it's time to ask whether Liverpool are the Premier League's best team ever. Here's the case for and against this iteration of the Reds.

Why Liverpool are Premier League's best team ever

Liverpool are halfway toward becoming just the second team in Premier League history to finish a season undefeated. The combination of that and the previously outlined statistical case is pretty clear, but let's try to add to it anyway. 

For one, their XI is historically good. Manager Jurgen Klopp unquestionably is one of the best in the world, but the talent at his disposal is undeniable. 

Liverpool's front line of Mo Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino have combined to score 27 goals this season. Fullbacks Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson have assisted on an astounding 14 goals this season, when -- as SB Nation's Kim McCauley observed -- no other defender has more than four.

The Ballon d'Or might be the Golden Globe of international soccer, but 2019 runner-up Virgil van Djik is the best defender in the world, and he just had the highest finish by a backliner since Paolo Madini came in third for the 2003 award. Had goalkeeper Alisson Becker not missed more than two months with an injury, he'd probably lead the Premier League in clean sheets this season.

Of those previously mentioned teams who had the nine highest points totals in Premier League history (this author's assuming Liverpool will crack the top 10), three had six players in the Professional Footballers' Association's Premier League team of the season. Mané, Robertson, Alexander-Arnold and van Djik figure to be locks, and Alisson and Salah should have strong cases by the time the season is over. 

Having at least four players make the end-of-year XI puts Liverpool firmly in the conversation with the greatest teams in Premier League history, but the strength of the league arguably puts them over.

Buoyed by the influx of television money from the last decade, the league's midtable arguably never has been stronger. Thirteen of the 30 highest-grossing clubs in Deloitte's Football Money League rankings last year were English, and there very well could be more if Wolverhampton Wanderers -- who were just promoted last season -- crack the list in 2020. 

Wolves (seventh place), Sheffield United (eighth) and Leicester City (second) have been knocking on the Big Six's door all season, leaving Manchester United, Tottenham and Arsenal in legitimate danger of missing out on European football. At least so far this season, the gaps between the "Big Six" and traditionally smaller clubs aren't as pronounced.

Liverpool haven't lost to any club -- big or small -- this season, and that's especially impressive in light of the Premier League's increased parity. 

Does the presence of fellow giant Manchester City and the super-club era diminish Liverpool's accomplishments? (photo via Associated Press/Jon Super)

Why they aren't

It's an extremely easy answer, but ... the season isn't over yet! Liverpool still must play Manchester City, Chelsea and Merseyside rivals Everton away from Anfield. The case for the Reds' historic greatness heavily relies on an undefeated season, considering how common seasons like theirs have been this decade. Four of the five highest point totals in Premier League history have come within the last four years, and the financial stratification of English soccer's haves and have-nots has become starker.

Although Liverpool was one of 13 English teams in Deloitte's rankings, their revenue in 2017-18 (which the rankings are based on) exceeded that of Everton and Leicester City combined. They're one of the wealthiest teams in Europe's wealthiest league. The Premier League's financial clout compared to the rest of Europe comes at a cost in a discussion of all-time greatness, as it arguably never has been an easier time to be a super club.

As The Independent's Miguel Delaney argued last week, Liverpool's historic status made them a sleeping giant earlier this century, and the deep pockets of owners Fenway Sports Group -- and their shrewd decision-making -- ultimately give the club "this globalist power that make it impossible for almost anyone else to compete without a super-wealthy owner." 

This notion colors all of the context surrounding Liverpool's season, as even the presence of four English teams in the UEFA Champions League's knockout stages -- nominally an argument in favor of the Reds' greatness, considering the strength of their domestic competitors -- feels more like a reflection of the sport's financial realities than of those clubs' accomplishments. The Premier League brought in over €2 billion more revenue than the Bundesliga in 2017-18, so they should be well-represented in the knockout stages. 

From an analytics perspective, Liverpool are not even the best team in the Premier League this season. Manchester City -- who are by no means a minnow -- continue to pace the league in terms of expected goals (49.8, per Stats Bomb), expected goal-difference (plus-28.7) and expected-goal difference per 90 minutes (plus-1.37). Liverpool have really taken it to their opponents in terms of shot quality lately, but they're arguably fortunate some lackluster early season performances didn't turn into draws or losses. Manchester City, who outshot Tottenham 30-3 in a 2-2 draw in September, can't say the same thing.

[RELATED: Check out more Premier League coverage from Sky Sports]

Verdict 

Liverpool's case as the best Premier League team ever isn't quite bulletproof. When examining historical greatness, the context of the modern game is just as worthy as on-field accomplishments, and Liverpool's status as a financial titan in a sport -- and a league -- increasingly dominated by them has played a massive role in the Reds' success.

But said dominance can't be ignored, either. Liverpool can set a Premier League record for the longest unbeaten streak if they don't lose any of their next 13 matches, and they can shatter it if they don't lose again this season. Although record-setting campaigns lately have been the norm for the biggest and best clubs, such a season still would manage to stand alone in Premier League history.

Joining the likes of Arsenal's "Invincibles" and setting a league points record along the way? That's an unimpeachable claim to the Premier League's all-time throne, and Liverpool are well on their way to seizing it. 

Liverpool-Manchester City prediction: Who has Premier League title edge

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AP

Liverpool-Manchester City prediction: Who has Premier League title edge

The English Premier League season really begins Sunday. 

Though Manchester City is in fourth ahead of a visit to league-leading Liverpool FC at Anfield, the reigning champions' place in the table is merely a technicality. City and Liverpool are, full stop, the two best teams in the Premier League, just as they were last season. 

That's not meant to disrespect party-crashing Leicester City and Chelsea, who sit second and third after 2-0 wins Saturday. It's merely a reflection of the Premier League's reality. Liverpool accumulated more points last season (97) than any other team that failed to win the title, but the Reds picked up a UEFA Champions League crown for their troubles. The Cityzens, meanwhile, won a second straight title last season and both of England's domestic cups en route to the treble. 

Liverpool enters Sunday's match with a six-point lead over City and a chance to create real separation in the title race. City, on the other hand, can prove that the Premier League is far from a foregone conclusion. Here's why both teams can win -- and who will -- in Sunday's massive match.

Why Liverpool can win

Liverpool has been waiting for this. Yes, a sixth European title is more than a consolation prize, but the Reds have had more than enough close calls in their 30-year league title drought to make last season's second-place Premier League finish sting. Add the record point total to a list that already features Steven Gerrard's fall in 2014 and finishing as runners-up to arch-rival Manchester United in 2009. 

The timing is right for Liverpool to beat City and ultimately win the club's first Premier League title, considering how strong Jurgen Klopp's squad is. Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané form the Premier League's most prolific attacking group, Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold are the league's best fullbacks, Virgil van Djik is the best center back in the world -- you get the idea. 

Anfield also is a fortress. Liverpool has not lost a league match at home since April 23, 2017. Klopp also is 8-2-7 all-time against Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola in all competitions, surely replacing José Mourinho as the former FC Barcelona and Bayern Munich gaffer's biggest rival. 

Why Manchester City can win

Manchester City are the best team money can buy. Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne are singular talents to be sure, but the Cityzens' petroleum-fueled depth is what separates them from the rest of England -- and Europe, frankly. On any given week, (at least) one of the three most expensive right backs in the sport's history sits on the bench, and Guardiola's squad has the depth to contend, not just compete, on four fronts. 

The Cityzens arguably have played better than any other club this season. City have scored the Premier League's most goals (34) and easily generated the most expected goals (32.5), according to StatsBomb's data. For reference, Leicester beat Southampton 9-0 earlier this season ... and the Foxes are still three goals behind City in terms of goal difference. City's goal difference (plus-24) and expected-goals difference (plus-20.1) are far ahead of Liverpool's (plus-16 and plus-11.0, respectively).

The tide might be turning in the Guardiola-Klopp rivalry, too. City picked up four of a possible six points against Liverpool last season, and the draw Guardiola's side earned at Anfield arguably was the result the title hinged upon last season. If Liverpool wins that match, the title drought already is over.

[RELATED: Why Kerr admires Liverpool manager Klopp's passion, joy]

Prediction

Liverpool 1-2 Manchester City

Liverpool has a slight edge in form and will be boosted by Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson's absence, but the Reds' league results have been too close for comfort. Klopp's squad earned points from losing positions in each of their last three matches, winning two and losing one.

Of course, City had to do the same against 19th-place Southampton last week, proving that trap games do, indeed, exist across the pond. The Cityzens also haven't exactly been tested this season, drawing struggling Tottenham Hotspur in their one other match against a traditional "Big Six" club. 

But even that draw came in what arguably was the single most dominant display of the Premier League season, as City outshot Spurs 30-3. City's dominance has flown under the radar due to losses to Norwich City and Wolves, but a two-time defending champion losing focus -- and lacking luck -- against lower sides isn't a new phenomenon. 

City has been better than Liverpool this season, and that will bear out with a win Sunday at Anfield.

What Warriors' Steve Kerr admires about Liverpool FC's Jurgen Klopp

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AP/USATSI

What Warriors' Steve Kerr admires about Liverpool FC's Jurgen Klopp

Steve Kerr's love of Liverpool FC is no secret, 

The Warriors coach was on the edge of his seat watching the Reds' epic UEFA Champions League comeback against FC Barcelona in May, tweeting "You'll Never Walk Alone" afterward. Kerr even channeled Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp's famous words after that win, calling the Warriors "f---ing giants" after a gutsy playoff win over the Houston Rockets. 

Though Kerr is known to break a clipboard or two, he and Klopp have very different sideline demeanors. The Liverpool manager is consistently demonstrative, but Kerr believes Klopp's passion has a purpose.

"What I like is that he also seems to enjoy it," Kerr told Roger Bennett in The Men In Blazers Steve Kerr special that will air Sunday on NBCSN. "It's not just that he's a madman. He's laughing, and smiling and fist-pumping, and I love the concept of joy in sports. It's one of the most important values to me and the Warriors. Steph Curry -- you watch him play, and there's so much joy.

"It's a powerful emotion, a powerful factor for a great team of any sport. Joy, enjoying what you're doing and the joy of just feeling young and free, and playing."

Klopp and Liverpool enter Sunday's massive match against reigning champion Manchester City with a six-point lead atop the English Premier League table. The Reds set a league record last season with 97 points, the most by a team that didn't win the title, and they have never lifted the trophy at the end of a Premier League season.

[RELATED: Pulisic scores again but injures hip in Chelsea win vs. Palace] 

Liverpool did lift the Champions League trophy in June, but Klopp told Bennett earlier this season that he doesn't define himself by wins and losses, but by his effort to improve himself and those around him. Kerr "absolutely" agreed with the manager's philosophy. 

"When you win a championship, it's an amazing feeling," Kerr said. "But, you know, after you celebrate that night, and the next night and you have a parade, go back to your life. You're still waking up in the morning, and taking care of your family, and going about your business and doing your chores. It's not like life just becomes this easy thing. Nothing ends, you're constantly moving forward and what you realize is the feeling and the relationships you have with the players ... last a lifetime, and that's important. And you want those to continue throughout your life."

You can watch Bennett's interview with Kerr in full Sunday at noon PT on NBCSN.