Premier League

Can Liverpool go back-to-back? History says they can

Clubs have had mixed success following title-winning seasons of late.

6:00pm on Thursday 3rd September 2020
Nicholas Hughes

Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool team is ready to “attack” this season’s Premier League title rather than defend the last, according to their manager, but how have previous champions fared in following up?

Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure from the Premier League brought an end to the Manchester United dynasty, and since then it has become more and more difficult to retain the title.

City are the only team to have gone back-to-back since 2009 – the year United completed a second three-peat – and in most cases teams have shown slight decreases the season after lifting the trophy.

Only five times in Premier League history has a champion accrued more points the following season, and on two of those occasions those increases weren’t even enough to retain the title.

As Liverpool face further glory and the prospect of a dynasty of their own, it is worth looking at how teams have defended titles before them and what that may mean for the Reds this season.

2015/16 – Chelsea

[Chelsea’s 2015/16 season

Position10th (50 points)
InsPedro, Abdul Rahman Baba, Asmir Begovic, Kenedy, Papy Djilobodji, Radamel Falcao (loan), Alexandre Pato (loan).
OutsOuts – Filipe Luis, Petr Cech, Thorgan Hazard, Oriol Romeu, Gael Kakuta, Ramires, Mohamed Salah (loan-to-buy), Juan Cuadrado (loan)
Other competitionsCommunity Shield (runners-up), League Cup (fourth round), FA Cup (quarter-finals), Champions League (round of 16)

Jose Mourinho's Chelsea side went from the top of the mountain to rock bottom in 2015/16 in a tumultuous campaign.

The Special One was sacked 16 games in, with Chelsea in 16th place having won just four games, losing nine. Guus Hiddink replaced him on an interim basis, quickly steering the Blues to a 15-game unbeaten run – but even that only contained seven wins.

The Blues won back-to-back games just once all season, failed to beat 10 clubs in both meetings and finished the season 10th with 37 fewer points than the previous season, still the equal-worst title defence in Premier League history.

2016/17 – Leicester City

[Leicester City’s 2016/17 season

Position12th (47 points)
Ins Islam Slimani, Ahmed Musa, Wilfred Ndidi, Nampalys Mendy, Bartosz Kaputska, Ron-Robert Zieler.
Outs Ngolo Kante, Jeffrey Schlupp, Andrej Kramaric, Ritchie De Laet, Luis Hernandez, Liam Moore, Paul Konchesky (free), Gokhan Inler (free).
Other competitions Community Shield (runners-up), League Cup (third round), FA Cup (fifth round), Champions League (quarter-finals).

It always going to be tough for Leicester to back-up their once in a lifetime, 5000-1 Premier League title-winning season.

After a reasonable two wins in their first five, the Foxes won just three of their next 20 league games, after which they lost to Sevilla in the Champions League round of 16, the final game of Claudio Ranieri's reign.

Assistant Manager Craig Shakespeare took the reigns and immediately lifted spirits as the Foxes won five on the bounce in the league and defeated Sevilla 2-0 in the return leg to be the only English team in the last eight of the competition.

In the end, 12th place was respectable considering they were a point above the drop zone when Shakespeare took over, with their 44 points equaling Chelsea's record the previous season as the biggest points drop in a defending champion in Premier League history.

2017/18 – Chelsea

[Chelsea’s 2017/18 season

Position5th (70 points)
InsAlvaro Morata, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Danny Drinkwater, Antonio Rudiger, Davide Zappacosta, Emerson, Olivier Giroud, Ross Barkley, Ethan Ampadu, Willy Caballero (free).
OutsDiego Costa, Nemanja Matic, Nathan Ake, Juan Cuadrado, Asmir Begovic, Bertrand Traore, Christian Atsu, Nathaniel Chalobah, Kurt Zouma (loan), Michy Batshuayi (loan), John Terry (free), Loic Remy (free).
Other competitionsCommunity Shield (runners-up), League Cup (semi-finals), FA Cup (winners), Champions League (round of 16).

Chelsea quickly returned to the top as Antonio Conte’s side dominated the competition in 2016/17, but the title defence was always a hopeless case in the face of Manchester City’s centurions.

The Blues were stunned at home to Burnley on opening day but remained City’s closest competitors through the turn of the year.

Consecutive three-goal losses to Bournemouth and Watford in late January-February began a run of five losses in seven games that ultimately derailed their season, compounded by a draw against Huddersfield and defeat to Newcastle on the final day that consigned them to the Europa League.

Chelsea won only seven games out of 17 after the turn of the year as Conte’s relationship with the club quickly deteriorated, with not even an FA Cup victory at the end of the campaign saving his job.

2018/19 – Manchester City

[Manchester City’s 2018/19 season

Position1st (98 points)
InsRiyad Mahrez.
Outs Brahim Diaz, Angus Gunn, Pablo Maffeo, Jason Denayer, Joe Hart.
Other competitionsCommunity Shield (winners), League Cup (winners), FA Cup (winners), Champions League (quarter-finals).

City’s 100-point season will have its place in Premier League history, but in many ways what they did in following it up was even more impressive.

Guardiola and Klopp, City and Liverpool, went head-to-head all season in one of the best title races the competition has seen.

City won 13 of their first 15 without defeat, but a sudden run of three losses in four in December put Liverpool in the driving seat. A contest for the ages at the Etihad Stadium swung the title race again as City defeated Liverpool 2-1 on January 3.

In a colossal run of form, City won 18 of their final 19 games, from December 30 to the final day, including each of their last 14 fixtures to capitalise on a string of Liverpool draws, ultimately pipping the Reds to the title by a single point and securing a domestic quadruple.

2019/20 – Manchester City

[Manchester City’s 2019/20 season

Position2nd (81 points)
Ins Rodri, Joao Cancelo, Angelino.
OutsDanilo, Douglas Luiz, Fabian Delph, Vincent Kompany (free), Eliaquim Mangala (free).
Other competitionsCommunity Shield (winners), League Cup (winners), FA Cup (semi-finals), Champions League (quarter-finals).

After two history-breaking seasons, Manchester City’s reign was interrupted by Liverpool in a season that ended in much disappointment.

City lost nine games throughout the season compared to just four defeats the previous campaign, the first of which came at newly promoted Norwich City in September.

In a season that will always be remembered for the impact of COVID-19, City’s largest win-streak was three games before the shutdown – minuscule compared to that 14-match run the season prior.

The Sky Blues were ruthless in lockdown, though, winning their last five and eight of the final 10 matches, with seven of those wins being by scorelines of 3-0 or larger.

The season would end in further disappointment with defeat in the FA Cup semi-finals and in the last eight of the revised Champions League.

2020/21 – Liverpool

Liverpool won the league at a canter last season, almost exactly mirroring City’s 100-point triumph two seasons ago. The past three seasons have seen record points totals for the champions, and the Reds will likely be asked to exceed 90 points for the third season running.

The last four winners have surpassed 90, something that had only been done three times before in a 38-game season up to that point. Each of the previous five champions have seen a decrease in points, and barring a herculean campaign Liverpool will likely fall below last season’s 99.

Winners throughout the decade have recruited poorly the following season, and this is exactly why Liverpool don’t need to panic in the window, especially under pandemic-induced financial constraints.

Kostas Tsimikas provides much-needed left-back cover and Thiago would be a world-class addition to the midfield, but outside of that the squad is terrific as it is – 196 points, a Premier League and a Champions League in the last two seasons proves that.

Back-to-back champions have historically had a tougher run in the second season, such as City recently, and Liverpool will be tested again.

But if they get the recruitment right, which they consistently have done under Klopp, and maintain the winning mentality, history appears to be on their side.

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