When Liverpool finished as First Division runners-up in 1990/91, no one could have predicted that a 30-year wait for a league title was just beginning. The Reds never really came close to catching champions Arsenal that season, with nine points separating top spot from second, but even after Kenny Dalglish’s shock resignation in February there were few signs that Liverpool were about to endure such a lengthy wait for a 19th championship.
The Merseysiders ended the next two campaigns in sixth, before slumping to eighth in 1993/94 and recovering to climb to fourth the following season, followed by third in 1995/96 and fourth again in 1996/97. Roy Evans was in possession of a promising young side at the midway point of the decade, but Liverpool were unable to take that final step and bring another league crown back to Anfield.
A fourth-place finish only brought UEFA Cup qualification back then, but Liverpool at least seemed to be moving in the right direction in 1996/97, the seventh season since their last title triumph. Indeed, although they amassed seven fewer points than table-topping Manchester United that year, only an inferior goal difference to Newcastle and Arsenal prevented them finishing as runners-up.
United are now into their seventh season since Alex Ferguson guided them to a 20th title in 2012/13, but there is no sense of progress or positivity at Old Trafford right now. In fact, United appear to be as far away as ever from challenging at the very top of the division.
Sunday’s 1-0 defeat by Newcastle United was as grim as they come for fans of a club who have been the dominant force in English football since the Premier League began in 1992. The starting XI at St James’ Park was perhaps the weakest United have fielded since before Ferguson took charge 33 years ago, and the visitors’ listless performance shows why they reside in 12th place in the table after eight matches of 2019/20.
Those who point out that the problems at Old Trafford run far deeper than the man in the dugout are correct, but that does not mean that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the right man for the job. The Norwegian may be a club legend following his exploits as a player, and he did well to lift spirits and improve results during his caretaker spell in charge last term, but it is hard to see how a former Molde and Cardiff manager is sufficiently qualified to compete with the likes of Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp.
United continue to generate huge revenue, but the absence of a modern-day footballing structure behind the scenes is a damning indictment of how the club is being run. Noises were made about the installation of a director of football a year ago, yet still no one has been appointed to such a role. Both on and off the pitch, United have no sense of direction or identity.
The Red Devils are already 15 points adrift of Premier League leaders Liverpool, and while winning the title was never a realistic ambition this term, it would be a major shock if Solskjaer’s side even came close to qualifying for the Champions League. Seven seasons on from Ferguson’s departure, United are not even treading water – they are going backwards.