It can be difficult to remember, looking back on it from now, but February kicked off with the Reds flying high. Any fears or doubts about whether they would win the title had begun to give way to questions about whether Liverpool could end the season unbeaten. The fans had begun to celebrate Liverpool’s seemingly inevitable title. Number nineteen. The club’s first domestic title in three decades.
February 1st, Premier League
Liverpool 4–0 Southampton
Liverpool had ended January by sweeping aside West Ham. They opened February by hammering Southampton. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain did his bit and opened the scoring. Jordan Henderson got a goal. Then Mohamed Salah got two. The Saints were simply there to witness Liverpool in their absolute pomp as they equalled Manchester City’s record of 20 home wins in a row in the Premier League. This was Liverpool doing a victory lap.
February 4th, FA Cup Replay
Liverpool 1-0 Shrewsbury Town
Victory lap against Southampton completed, the players were given a well deserved break. Not just well deserved, but Premier League mandated, with 2019-20 the first season clubs in England would be given a mid-season week off. The FA, though, seemed caught out by this long-established plan when they set the schedule the club’s fourth round replay against Shrewsbury.
There were grumbles from Shrewsbury and grumbles from traditionalists—about the magic of the cup and Jürgen Klopp’s disrespect for it—but the Liverpool manager stuck to his guns and gave his senior stars their week off. And let the kids, managed by Neil Critchley, take the pitch.
As they had against Aston Villa when Liverpool were asked to play a League Cup game 24 hours before they were set to play at the Club World Cup in Qatar, the kids gave a solid account. And this time, against lower-league opposition, they got the win their strong play deserved when young right back Neco Williams forced an own goal off a cross.
February 15th, Premier League
Norwich City 0–1 Liverpool
Back from their break, those senior stars looked a little sleepy against Norwich, but even a sleepy Liverpool side—or at least this Liverpool side—was going to get all three points, in this case thanks to a Sadio Mané strike in the 78th minute. Because back in the middle February while the games still mattered in the league, this Liverpool side didn’t seem to know how to lose.
February 18th, Champions League
Atletico Madrid 1-0 Liverpool
Then came the first real bump in the road, though at the time it really didn’t feel like much of a bump, and it wasn’t entirely unexpected. Napoli had given the Reds fits in the autumn, and Atletico Madrid at home were always going to be like Napoli—only better. And Liverpool at least ended the night with reason to believe. Based on the stats, the chances created and expected goals, it was a game Liverpool should have won 3-1. Every once in a while, though, you don’t win games you should by the chances. You face a hot goalkeeper or miss a sitter or concede in an unlikely manner.
Liverpool had gone to Madrid and been frustrated by their opponents, but on another night they could have gone home with a comfortable win, and with the return leg at Anfield the fans’ hopes remained high despite the setback. The bump in the road that didn’t really feel like one.
February 24th, Premier League
Liverpool 3–2 West Ham United
Following up that disappointing result in Europe, Liverpool again looked a little short of their best—as they had against Norwich after the mid-season break. This time, though, result of it was an unexpectedly open match against a side fighting to avoid relegation. It was a weird one, and probably a lot of fun for any neutrals, but after that mid-week loss there were a lot of sighs of relief when the final whistle blew and the Reds earned another three points—giving them 79 points and a stunning 22-point advantage over Manchester City after 27 rounds of Premier League football.
February 29th, Premier League
Watford 3–0 Liverpool
Liverpool had been better than Atletico Madrid and unfortunate to lose, and they’d probably just about deserved their victories over Norwich and West Ham even if they hadn’t been at their best. Against Watford, though, they were downright poor, putting in perhaps their worst performance of the season to that point and with it losing their chance to become invincibles.
Perhaps they’d lost rhythm having had a week off. Perhaps they’d let their concentration slip just a percent or two with the league essentially won. Whatever the case, after starting the month like they were doing a victory lap, Liverpool rather limped out of it. Not that there was any real cause for concern. Not with the league all but mathematically won. Even with a loss to Watford at the end of February, it was difficult to imagine anything—any slip or stumble or act of god—putting the league title in any real kind of doubt.