From topping the Premier League with 99 points in 2019/20 after one of the best seasons on record, Liverpool lost a third consecutive home game on Sunday when they were torn apart by a rampant Manchester City at Anfield, following on from defeats against Burnley and Brighton.
The reigning champions have been ravaged by defensive injuries, although it has been a general lack of goals since the start of November that has particularly hampered them, while multiple avoidable mistakes from Alisson directly contributed to the City thrashing in their last outing.
Retaining the Premier League title already looks beyond Liverpool as they are now 10 points adrift of leaders City, having also played a game more and in a downward slump. Jurgen Klopp has said that just securing a top four finish is now the main priority this season.
Sky Sports pundit and seven-time Premier League winner Roy Keane went as far as calling Liverpool ‘bad champions’, suggesting the motivation hasn’t carried over with them from last season.
23 games into the season, Liverpool have the same number of points that Manchester United did at the same stage of the 2013/14 when they were last defending champions.
That United side, managed by David Moyes following the 2013 retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, is widely considered to have put up one of the very worst title defences of the Premier League era. But given that they had the same number of points after 23 games as Liverpool now, who is worse?
Despite the same number of points, United had actually won marginally more games at this stage of 2013/14, with 12 wins, four draws and seven defeats to show for themselves.
Liverpool have only won 11 from 23 in 2020/21, but they have actually been beaten less often, only losing five times and drawing the other seven games.
While Liverpool are fourth with 40 points this season, United were seventh with 40 in 2013/14.
When United were en-route to winning the 2012/13 Premier League title, they had 56 points after 23 games, winning 18 of 23 they had played. That meant that 12 months later as champions they were 16 points worse off than they had been.
Liverpool have fallen significantly further from the level they were operating at, having amassed an almost perfect 67 points from their first 23 games of last season’s title winning tilt. They are therefore now 27 points worse off this season than they were.
Even though they were pushing the boundaries and on course to break all sorts of records, that is a very long way to fall from one season to the next, regardless of a few key injuries.
The Premier League title race appeared to be of higher quality in 2013/14, which is understandable given the congested fixture list and additional demands on stretched squads as a result of the impact of the current pandemic.
Even though Manchester City, who were leaders with 53 points back then, could match their tally after 23 games this season if they win their next game, the rest of the top clubs are worse off in 2020/21 by comparison. Liverpool were actually fourth in 2013/14, as they are now, but had six more points, while there were seven clubs with at least 40 points, instead of only four now.
Arsenal and Chelsea were both within three points of the top in 2013/14, whereas now City hold a five-point lead over their nearest rivals and have a game in hand.
The Premier League, for obvious reasons, is worse in 2020/21 than it was in 2013/14. In one sense, that doesn’t bode well for Liverpool. In another, however, the reasons for the general drop in quality across the board – excluding Manchester City – offers some consolatory solace.
In 2013/14, United were an ageing team. It marked the overdue breakup of the team that Ferguson had put together at Old Trafford in the mid to late 2000s.
Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra were all over 30 and left at the end of the season. Ryan Giggs had hung up his boots to take over as caretaker manager in the final stages of the campaign, while Anderson, Nani and Javier Hernandez were shown the door in the months that followed. Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, meanwhile, were past their best and never managed to recapture their form of 2013 or earlier before they too eventually moved on in 2015 and 2017 respectively.
United in 2013/14 were at the end of a natural cycle and the upheaval of a new manager and new chief executive before the season began contributed to a failed attempt to build a new side. The slide from champions to seventh, while alarming and sudden, was inevitable and unsurprising.
Liverpool in 2020/21 are at a different stage of their cycle. Klopp’s side, which has been largely built since 2017, should be at its peak right now, or at worst at the very beginning of the downward slide.
Of the regular starters, only Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum are in their thirties and both have turned 30 within the last eight months. If peak age is 26-29, most of the strongest starting XI, including Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, fits into that category.
United were finished in 2013/14, but Liverpool shouldn’t be in 2020/21. It suggests the latter could still return to better form before this team inevitably starts to break up, but it is damning all the same that they have fallen from their level sooner and faster than they should.
Big losers: Liverpool