The Kop confetti had barely wiped out and the champagne hangover had just faded when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer promised to knock Liverpool off their Premier League bass again.
The league title that went to Anfield for the first time in three decades punctured Manchester United, the 33-point gap between these bitter rivals in the final table that symbolizes a power shift.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool who won the Champions League and then the Premier League in consecutive seasons just hammered how far United had fallen since Sir Alex Ferguson made winning a look as easy as breathing.
Liverpool’s Premier League title win last season stung their bitter rivals Manchester United
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (left) promised to review Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool in the rankings
‘Anytime you see someone else lift a trophy, it hurts. That’s the feeling everyone associated with Manchester United, ‘Solskjaer said a few days after Liverpool’s crowning title.
‘We want to go back to ways to win. That is our challenge. ‘
While United’s third place finish in 2019/20 was a strong sign of progress, nothing suggested that they would participate in Sunday’s game with Liverpool at Old Trafford, four places and up 13 points.
It’s not a complete reversal of last season’s colossal gap, but an impressive swing nonetheless, and United only needs a point from the game this weekend to guarantee they’ll finish above Liverpool.
In addition, Solskjaer’s team are in a good position to know that all the points scored on Sunday will hit Liverpool’s chances of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.
United is on track to finish comfortably in second place in a season of improvement
But Liverpool’s title defense was risky amid a season of frustration over injuries
It’s Solskjaer’s team (left) that could be happier with how the season has gone, while Jurgen Klopp (right) from Liverpool just wants the fresh start.
While United are looking for runner-up, albeit distantly to elected champions Manchester City after their title challenge sputtered, Liverpool are trapped in a top-four bottleneck.
They play it out with Chelsea, West Ham, Tottenham and Everton for what is essentially a remaining place in the Champions League.
Liverpool’s nine league defeats this season are as many as in the previous three seasons combined and far from where they expected their title defense to be with five rounds to play.
But are we witnessing a protracted swing back from Merseyside to Manchester? In reality, it is too early to say.
The 1970s and 1980s belonged to Liverpool before Ferguson’s United dominated the two decades that followed. The seven seasons since Fergie’s retirement have seen greater unpredictability.
Matches between the two northwestern rivals are still as fierce as ever
Bruno Fernandes scored a free kick winner on their last meeting – in the FA Cup in January
The balance of power since Fergie retired
2013-14 Liverpool (2nd) Man United (7th) +20 points
2014-15 United (4th) Liverpool (6th) +8
2015-16 United (5th) Liverpool (8th) +6
2016-17 Liverpool (4th) United (6th) +7
2017-18 United (2nd) Liverpool (4th) +6
2018-19 Liverpool (2nd) United (6th) +31
2019-20 Liverpool (1st) United (3rd) +33
Liverpool finished for United in four of the campaigns, United finished higher in three. When Liverpool have the superior season, the point margin is usually much wider.
In 2013/14, Brendan Rodgers’ team took on a serious title challenge before eventually missing City – but they still finished 20 points above United, whose ‘Chosen One’ was in David Moyes and disappeared.
In 2018/19, when Liverpool finished second to City despite losing just one game all season, the gap with United in sixth place with an all-powerful 31 points. Last season it was 33.
So Solskjaer did a really good job getting it back, albeit aided by what has become a title defense nightmare for Klopp.
But Liverpool has had one thing that has become a forgotten tradition at Old Trafford lately: winning trophies.
Solskjaer has undoubtedly put United back in the right direction, but they lost in four semifinals during his tenure. In that time, Liverpool have gotten the job done, conquered Europe and ended their long and painful wait for the championship.
When Solskjaer says ‘going back to ways of winning’, he means by lifting trophies and, given the appearance of the current landscape in English football, that means that Pep Guardiola’s city must be driven from an increasingly lofty place.
It would be a big break if United can wrap up this season by winning the Europa League, with the two legs of their semi-final against Roma encircling Liverpool’s game. In the 6-2 victory of the first stage on Thursday evening, they are in the final with one foot.
Solskjaer was a proven winner as a player, but as a manager he must prove that those under his leadership can overcome this psychological barrier and win that first piece of silverware.
The elected champions Manchester City are the team to overcome both Liverpool and United
No one expects the same kind of dynasty that followed Ferguson’s first trophy – the 1990 FA Cup – but if Solskjaer United are to recover to the top, the Europa League would be an excellent place to start.
As for Liverpool, it maintains those high standards that have proved impossible this season. It is the first time during Klopp’s tenure that they have failed to reach even a semi-final, let alone win anything.
But there are many mitigating circumstances for the regression. The injury crisis that ended the seasons of first-choice center halves Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez took a heavy toll.
Other key players, including Trent Alexander-Arnold, Thiago Alcantara and Jordan Henderson, have endured spells on the sidelines. The improvised gaze of the Liverpool defense has crept in vulnerability.
It’s unusual for six of their defeats to have come home in the league and the heavy losses to Aston Villa and Manchester City have shown that Klopp’s champions are just as fallible as anyone else on a bad day.
The injuries of Virgil van Dijk (photo) and others hindered Liverpool too much
We knew quite early in the season that a successful title defense in such a situation would be tricky, but City’s rampant winning form made it impossible by the start of spring.
That form also vanished United’s brief flicker of challenge at the start of the year, but they can still have a pretty good season.
Actual matches between United and Liverpool remain a close affair. The goalless draw played at Anfield in January left United formally frustrated in their quest for a late winner.
It took a brilliant free kick from Bruno Fernandes to settle their FA Cup game at Old Trafford seven days later, continuing the theme that there was little between them in recent years.
United has moved up, with Bruno Fernandes in the foreground, but must win a trophy
You have to go back to the 2015-16 season, with United under Louis van Gaal, for the last time both sides scored a league double over the other.
We can expect Liverpool to write off this disappointing season and come back stronger in August. United, meanwhile, will want to start and maintain an actual tilt to the title.
For now, they can take heart from the way they’ve overhauled their biggest rivals. Just don’t expect it to be a permanent shift.