History beckons for Liverpool this evening as they visit Tottenham Hotspur looking to secure the best-ever start in the 131-year history of English top-flight football.
A 20th victory from their 21st game of the campaign would secure that remarkable feat, but they come up against a familiar foe in Jose Mourinho, who has spoiled the Liverpool party on more than one occasion in the past.
Rarely has a manager had such a storied rivalry with one particular club having never been in charge of them himself, from Luis Garcia’s ‘Ghost Goal’ in the 2005 Champions League semi-final to Steven Gerrard’s infamous slip towards the end of one of Liverpool’s previous title challenges in 2013-14.
Mourinho versus Liverpool is almost as big an occasion as the team he is in charge of, with the Portuguese having faced the Reds 28 times throughout his career – more than he has faced any other club. Of those 28 games he has lost just seven, while in the Premier League he has lost only three of 17.
The three-time Premier League winner has never come up against a Liverpool team like this one, though, with Jurgen Klopp’s side having picked up 58 points from the 60 on offer to build a commanding 13-point lead at the top of the table.
Only Manchester City’s centurions of 2017-18 have ever fared as well after 20 games of an English top-flight season, but they drew game number 21. Victory for Liverpool would see them set a new benchmark of 61 points from a possible 63.
Should they achieve that, then they would have already surpassed their overall points tally from nine of their previous Premier League campaigns, but Klopp has repeatedly insisted that these records mean nothing to him.
Instead, his eyes are firmly on the prize which has eluded Liverpool since 1990, and it would take not only an unprecedented collapse but an entire reversal of the club’s form over the past two years to deny them that 19th top-flight title now.
Indeed, talk has already turned to the possibility of an Invincible campaign rather than merely a title-winning one, and it is easy to see why considering Liverpool have overcome challenge after challenge this term – most recently winning every game bar the EFL Cup match in which they fielded an Under-23 side during a hectic December, despite a mounting injury list.
The Reds have continued that perfection into 2020 so far, utterly dominating Sheffield United in their last Premier League outing before embarrassing Merseyside neighbours Everton with a 1-0 FA Cup win despite again fielding a youthful side.
Liverpool have not even conceded a Premier League goal since Everton previously visited Anfield on December 2, keeping five top-flight clean sheets on the bounce having managed only two in their opening 15 games of the season.
The numbers behind Liverpool’s run are in danger of becoming normalised through overuse, but they are worth repeating again – 28 wins from their last 29 Premier League games, 37 top-flight matches unbeaten stretching back more than a year and 29 consecutive games in which they have scored.
The latter is a streak only two teams in Premier League history can beat and will be particularly concerning for a Spurs side that has only kept one clean sheet from their 12 matches under Mourinho so far.
Liverpool’s clean sheet record will also be a worry with Spurs missing Harry Kane through injury for the foreseeable future, but few are better at devising tactical plans to keep a Liverpool side at bay than Mourinho.
Mourinho is one of only a handful of managers to have experienced something similar to the run Liverpool are on at the moment, having seen his 2005-06 Chelsea team reach 58 points in 21 games, and Spurs will be hoping that gives him some idea of how to stop the rampant Reds.
Spurs do not come into the game in particularly good form, though, winning just one of their last five outings across all competitions including a 1-1 draw at Championship side Middlesbrough in Sunday’s FA Cup clash.
Tottenham’s last Premier League game saw them slump to a 1-0 defeat to Southampton – a result made all the more miserable by Kane’s injury – and they subsequently sit six points off the pace in the battle for a Champions League spot.
Spurs have not lost back-to-back league games yet this season, though, while their home form is more encouraging – four wins from five under Mourinho, with the only exception being a 2-0 defeat at the hands of former club Chelsea.
However, those victories did all come in matches they were expected to win, and now they find themselves in danger of failing to win four games on the bounce across all competitions for the first time since November 2016.
For Liverpool this match is one of those which would have been earmarked as one of their toughest remaining tests this season, particularly coming as part of a double-header with Manchester United visiting Anfield next week.
The Reds were relentless while playing every three days or so over the festive period, though, while most of the first team would have had nine days to get ready for this match, meaning that they will be raring to go on their trip to North London. – SportsMole