One of my favorite Bill Shankly quotes is the one about the piano. You know the one I mean: where he posits that playing football is like a piano - you need nine people to lift it and two who can actually play the thing.
It’s one that speaks directly to the communal nature of the sport. One that notes that every single person’s contribution towards the goal matters. And we know this to be true because outsized individual influence in the sport can be very difficult to come by.
I mean, you’ve got generational talents like Zidane or Messi or Mbappé. People whose legends are etched into history and place them in the rarefied air of being the special type of player who really can elevate an entire team with their presence.
But for the most part, a team is indeed the sum of their parts. And their fortunes rest on the shoulders, with the load being spread more or less rather evenly. It is an effort taken on together.
And that’s a sentiment that Liverpool’s iconic manager clearly believed in, based on his famous quote. Looking at this edition of Liverpool, one would have to believe that Bill Shankly would be rather pleased.
Liverpool will enter 2020 as the odds on favorite to win the title. That’s not hyperbole. It’s true, given that Liverpool are currently in first place. Their advantage over both Leicester City (13 points) and Manchester City (14 points) is daunting. And all of that is before you factor in that Liverpool have a match in hand.
Speaking specifically to Leicester’s chances at catching the Reds, Liverpool’s absolute shellacking of the Foxes on Boxing Day was the reverse fixture. Meaning that Leicester must now win out and hope for other teams to take points from Liverpool, as they lost out on the opportunity to close the gap on their own.
Liverpool are effectively alone at their place at the top. And while we are less bullish on proclaiming that the tile is effectively all sewn up, we are firm: the title is Liverpool’s to lose.
Getting to this place is incredible, but the way in which they’ve reached the pinnacle of the English game is remarkable. After having a front three that’s garnered the attention of world soccer over the past few years, the returns at the front of the pitch suggest that the load has finally been shared.
This isn’t to suggest that Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, and Mohamed Salah have dipped in form. Far from it. But rather that the balance in the squad has been such that they don’t need to play out of this world in order to give the team the chance to win. An obvious thing to look at is to note that a year after both Mané and Salah shared the Premier League Golden Boot (along with Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang), none of the front three are among the league’s top 5 scorers.
That’s, again, not a knock on them. It’s that their roles have shifted a little and also because the team has goals elsewhere. Still, it’s worth noting that all three are within the top 15 scorers in the league.
Goals have come from across the the team, with Liverpool registering 16 different goal scorers this season. On Boxing Day, against Leicester, one of those goal scorers was a defender, Scouser Trent Alexander-Arnold.
There’s got to be something magical being the hometown kid. And we’ve already written in this space how wonderful Trent specifically seems to be. What was on display on Boxing Day, though, felt like an amalgamation of all the things that make him such a compelling player to watch and a wonderful person to root for. Two assists. One goal. Contributed to a clean sheet. He did it all.
But even with an effort like that, it’s hard not to look across the pitch on a day like that and count multiple people who contributed major work towards the win. There’s Roberto Firmino, who scored two on the day. Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Gomez who turned in an absolute masterclass in the heart of defense. And even The Admiral, whose turn in the center of the park was breathtaking.
Liverpool’s team is more than one person and even more than just one part subdivision within the team. It is an entire unit built for the express purpose of working together. And what it’s down so far is bordering on the impossible.
So, yeah, if Bill Shankly were around I’m certain he’d incredibly proud of what this team has done. More, that the way they’ve done it was together. Shankly Socialist poetry in motion, as it were.