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Football's toughest test: Why excellence alone is no longer enough in today's Premier League

Football's toughest test: Why excellence alone is no longer enough in today's Premier League
When Liverpool can blow Arsene Wenger's 'Invincibles' record out of the water and still only manage a second-place finish, you know the Premier League is a tougher title to win than ever before.

With the 2018-19 Premier League season now in the rear-view mirror, now is the time of year when we take a look back at the season just gone and assess what we just witnessed. And this year, it might well have been the best title race in Premier League history.

The final day denouement may not have been as dramatic as it might have been, but the final six weeks of the season were as gripping as any title race in recent memory as Manchester City and Liverpool duked it out during the title run-in.

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The points differential, coupled with some smart TV scheduling, meant that the lead chopped and changed multiple times during the run-in as the two sides refused to wilt under the ever-increasing pressure of the season's final matches.

In the end, neither side blinked and City held on to their slender, but decisive, one point advantage to retain the Premier League title.

For City, it was a validation of their strength and consistency as a club, as they became the first club to retain the Premier League title in a decade. The plaudits they are receiving for their superb campaign are certainly more than deserved.

But a look at the team who so narrowly missed out may perhaps tell a bigger story about the current state of the Premier League.

Liverpool's season was packed full of positives, despite the fact they fell agonizingly short in the final reckoning.

Also on rt.com So near, yet so far: Liverpool fall agonizingly short on the Premier League's dramatic final day

Jurgen Klopp's side produced some of the most thrilling football of the season, both in the Premier League and in Europe, as they pushed City all the way in the league, progressed all the way to next month's UEFA Champions League final and finished with two of their strikers tied at the top of the Premier League's top goalscorer charts for the season.

Liverpool's incredible 4-0 second-leg win over Barcelona was one of the best - if not, THE best - comeback performances ever produced by an English club in Europe, and showed that Klopp's team had a special kind of spirit.

And that spirit played a major part in Liverpool pushing City all the way to the wire in the Premier League. Such was their excellence in the league, they achieved a remarkable 97 points, yet that was still only enough for a second-place finish this season.

Incredibly, Liverpool's 97-point haul was the third-highest tally earned in one season by a club in Premier League history, and would have won the title in 25 of the 27 Premier League seasons run to date. Only City's historic 100-point campaign last season, and this year's 98-point title win, can beat that.

It proves that in today's Premier League, where the quality at the top of the table has never been higher, excellence alone isn't quite enough to capture the biggest prize in English football.

And to help underline that fact, today marked the 15th anniversary of the day that Arsene Wenger's record-breaking Arsenal side completed their historic 'Invincible' season.

That year, the Gunners won 26 and drew 12 of their 38 league games as they went the entire campaign undefeated to capture the 2003-04 Premier League title.

Incredibly, that record would only have seen them finish THIRD in this year's Premier League with 90 points, a whopping SEVEN POINTS adrift of this year's Liverpool in second place.

If City had racked up their 98 points largely unopposed, questions would be rightly asked about the balance of power in England's top division.

But with Liverpool matching them, stride for stride - and actually losing three games fewer than the title-winners - the signs are positive for next season, with Liverpool set to push hard once again for their first-ever Premier League title.

Their famous terrace anthem 'You'll Never Walk Alone' features the line: "Walk on, with hope in your heart."

And, after such a strong campaign this season, that hope will be stronger than ever when the Premier League returns in August, as the Reds look to dethrone City and prevent them from matching the Sky Blues' cross-town rivals United and completing a hat-trick of successive Premier League titles.

It should be another thrilling rollercoaster ride of a season, and it all starts in just 87 days' time...

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