How does the current Anfield side match up against those of the past?
This is a question that is usually asked in hindsight, but with Klopp’s Liverpool breaking records and reaching new heights almost every week, it would seem appropriate to broach the subject now. There is a lot of competition, and it is incredibly hard to define who is the best. But let’s give it a go.
At the time of writing, Liverpool are 8 points clear in first place in the league—11 points clear of Manchester City (who, themselves, were being touted as the best team ever not that long ago). The fact that we are only in early December and Liverpool are 2/7 to lift the EPL title (again at the time of writing) is an indication of just how good a side they are. They are also the Champions League holders, let us not forget. The current team have amassed a staggering number of records and milestones:
Hindsight and the tendency to look back at previous eras with red-tainted glasses makes the task of comparison tricky. You also need to look at the competition that each team faced. There is an argument that, when Liverpool were at their best in the 70’s and 80’s, the leagues were closer in terms of quality from top to bottom, as the market in which all the clubs were shopping was smaller at that time. Now players from the whole world are available, and it is easier for the bigger, and richer clubs to differentiate themselves from the rest. That argument goes both ways, as the clubs at the top, with whom Liverpool are competing for silverware, are in the exact same position as the Reds. There may not be a group of six teams that all have a realistic chance of winning the league, but that was not the case in the past either. The Manchester City side of today are as good, if not better, than any of the teams that Liverpool sides of the past went head-to-head with.
The Paisley, Fagan, Dalglish era will be the one that this current side is held up against. That era, running from the mid-1970s to the late 1980s, has to be the benchmark. To be seen as the best Liverpool side, they will have to add league titles to that list above, not just statistics. That is something that they seem set on doing this season, but the mark of a great side is longevity and consistency. Between 1972 and 1990 Liverpool won 11 league titles, 7 European trophies, 3 FA Cups and 4 League Cups.
Judging players from different eras—even more so than judging teams as a whole—is almost impossible. There are loads of “The Best Liverpool XI” lists online. None of them feature any of the current crop of players. In ten or twenty years, that will unlikely be the case, and already the current players populate Liverpool’s highest scoring lists, with 3 in the top 11. One reason for that is the way that the players on the current side play the game. The attacking, high-octane nature of this Liverpool side is almost certainly the most pleasing on the eye. They are scoring more goals than any other Liverpool team. Under Klopp, they have already scored 4 goals or more 46 times. That just was never the case of old. So, are they the best Liverpool side? Not yet, but the fact that we are having this conversation at all is a sign that they are at least halfway there.