A memory of Christmas past | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, December 26, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:56 AM, December 26, 2018

A memory of Christmas past

Rafa Benitez's return to Anfield on Boxing Day is likely to stir memories of an unsuccessful Liverpool challenge for the Premier League title, but Jurgen Klopp is trying to focus on the present.

Klopp's Liverpool hold a four-point lead at the top of the table as Benitez, the club's manager between 2004 and 2010, visits with his relegation-threatened Newcastle United side on Wednesday.

There is a strong sense this could be the season that the English league trophy comes to Anfield for the first time since 1990, although recent history is offering mixed messages as to whether that will happen.

First, the good news for Liverpool: In eight of the past 10 seasons, the leaders on Christmas Day have gone on to win the Premier League.

Now, the bad news: On the two occasions it did not happen, the Christmas leaders were Liverpool. In 2008/09, Manchester United won the title; in 2013/14 it was Manchester City.

The late collapse to miss out in 2014 was perhaps the more immediately painful experience for Liverpool fans, but the failure of 2009, under Benitez, maybe offers more reason for regret. Both cases offer lessons that the Merseyside club, however, appear to have absorbed.

Brendan Rodgers' team of 2013/14 were not as balanced as the side current Reds boss Klopp has now.

While Rodgers had an outstanding attacking partnership, with Luis Suarez supported by a fully-fit Daniel Sturridge, his men were defensively suspect.

The then Liverpool manager had four senior centre-backs -- Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger, Mamadou Sakho and Kolo Toure -- yet struggled to settle on a first-choice pairing. A team who scored 101 league goals conceded a whopping 50; far too many for any side with serious championship ambitions.

The class of 2018/19 should avoid that trap; they have the Premier League's best defensive record this season, with only seven goals conceded.

Virgil van Dijk's influence has been key; the centre-back, signed for £75 million ($94.5 million) from Southampton last January, has provided the defensive leadership that Liverpool missed badly following Jamie Carragher's retirement in 2013.

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