Liverpool are champions of Premier League season scarred by VAR and buoyed by Brit success



Posted Sunday, March 22, 2020 by Express.co.uk

Sunday Express Chief Sports Correspondent Jim Holden gives his verdict on the 2019/20 Premier League season.

The Premier League season of 2019/20 is on hold - uncertainty rules about if or when matches can resume, and whether or nor the campaign will ever be completed. One thing is for sure, though; its shape and nature has already been drawn.

It will be remembered in history as the season that was halted by coronavirus pandemic.

It will be remembered as the season which saw the most sustained and unparalleled run of results by a Liverpool team that broke a host of records.

It will be recalled as the first league season scarred by the use of VAR, so deeply flawed in its application in the Premier League, and which some of us think is a ruinous change for the worse in the story of the old game.

It will be more fondly regarded as a season of resurgence - for the English football manager, and for the fine clubs of Sheffield United and Wolves.

And it will be remembered as a season of huge turbulence in London, with managers sacked at Arsenal, Tottenham and West Ham in quick succession - a crisis of confidence before the global health crisis put winning and losing football matches back into perspective.

Liverpool are champions of Premier League season scarred by VAR and buoyed by Brit success
Liverpool were on course to win the Premier League before the coronavirus pandemic hit (Image: GETTY)

None of this will alter, whatever the future holds in the coming weeks and months.

Liverpool's magnificent supremacy is unmatched in history. Their sequence of 26 wins and one draw from the opening 27 matches is a record in the major five European leagues. The previous best ended at 21 games.

Even more stunning was registering just one defeat in 66 League matches. No team has ever done that before.

In their final match before virus stopped play they clinched a 21st consecutive League victory, creating another all-time best milestone.

They achieved it all with a brand of dramatic and stirring football. They did so with innovation - leaning heavily on intelligent and rampant full-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson.

The emergence of Alexander-Arnold as the most potent creative force in a champion team from the position of right back is a stunning tactical development. It will also have a significant place in history.

Liverpool are champions of Premier League season scarred by VAR and buoyed by Brit success
Chris Wilder and Sheffield United have thrived in the Premier League this season (Image: GETTY)

Oh yes, Liverpool are champions. They are a champion team for the ages, and the virus won't affect that judgement.

We won't forget them, and we won't forget the way VAR spoiled so many matches, and cancelled out far too many proper goals because a player's nose or big toe was a few millimetres over an artificial line etched on a screen.

When both sets of supporters at the same match are chanting un unison against something, you know their anger must be profoundly reasonable.

The robot refs, working from a bunker somewhere near Heathrow Airport, were a disaster.

Worst of all, as wise men like Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo kept saying, you could no longer properly celebrate a goal, knowing that everything would be checked by VAR for a way to disallow it.

This fundamentally alters the emotion of watching a match in its most crucial moments. It is a great sadness.

Liverpool are champions of Premier League season scarred by VAR and buoyed by Brit success
VAR has proved controversial since being implemented in the Premier League (Image: GETTY)

A much more welcome change was the renewal of faith in English football managers. Chris Wilder's work in guiding newly-promoted Sheffield United to a place among the elite in the top eight of the table was simply stunning.

It proved, though it should never have been doubted, that managers who have learned and plied their trade in the lower divisions can be just as dynamic and successful as celebrated imports from overseas.

Huge credit is also due to Steve Bruce, who took over at Newcastle amid widespread scepticism and no little hostility from fans who had adored predecessor Rafa Benitez. His team had superior results in the League and reached the FA Cup quarter-finals.

The willingness of Frank Lampard to trust in the talented young English youngsters of the Chelsea academy was another encouraging development; another corner being turned in the right direction, another snippet of history.

Resurgence is always pleasing to witness. The rise and rise of Sheffield United, playing with their own tactical innovation of over-lapping centre-backs, has been a delight.

So, too, has the sustained excellence of Wolves under the guidance of Espirito Santo, challenging hard in the Premier League and in European club fooball.

No, I haven't forgotten Leicester City, placed in the top four all season with an attractive passing style and several high-class performers.

Liverpool are champions of Premier League season scarred by VAR and buoyed by Brit success
Nuno Espirito Santo has turned Wolves into a Premier League force to be reckoned with (Image: GETTY)

The 2019/20 season will be recalled in the capital as one of unusual turbulence; it is rare for three clubs to sack their boss before Christmas.

Arsenal and West Ham both delayed their change of manager for too long amid severe discontent among supporters. It has made the climb back to stability more difficult than it might have been.

Tottenham's decision to sack Mauricio Pochettino just a few months after he took them to the Champions League final was a stunning moment.

It was clear there had been a hangover from that European journey, and that Spurs needed a lift.

Did they try hard enough to make that happen from within? switching managers is always a gamble, and Tottenham took an almighty risk in appointing Jose Mourinho as the new first-team boss.

By the time of the enforced break for the virus, Mourinho had already retreated into sulking negativity, citing excuses galore.

That wasn't a spectacle just of this season. It has been Mourinho's story for much of the past decade, sowing discord at every club he has managed. It is unlikely to be any different when the virus pandemic has passed.

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