by Dave Usher for ESPN
It's been 23 long years and counting since Liverpool were last crowned Champions of England. In that time they've probably only had three sides that were really capable of winning the title, but for varying reasons they failed to get over the finish line.
The Roy Evans side of the mid 90's certainly had enough talent to become champions but unfortunately lacked the mental strength and professionalism to get the job done. The 1996-97 season was Evan's best opportunity but his men choked down the stretch and handed the title to arch rivals Manchester United.
If Liverpool held their nerve that year, who knows how differently the next decade would be? Instead, they buckled under the pressure and the expression 'fourth in a two horse race' still sends shudders down Kopites' spines, conjuring up painful memories of David James flapping at near post corners against Coventry City at Anfield.
Liverpool had led the way for most of that season yet finished seven points behind United. It was almost unforgivable, the title was there for the taking but the 'Spice Boys' -- as they were dubbed back then -- completely blew it. United only amassed 75 points that season, which in most years since wouldn't have even gotten them within sniffing distance of a championship. It smarts just as much today thinking about that as it did at the time. 'The Spice Boys' were a good team, just not as good as they thought and that complacency and lack of professionalism cost the Reds the best chance they've had at winning the title in the last 23 years.
That side played a very similar formation to that which Brendan Rodgers has recently implemented. Three at the back, two wing backs, a couple of central midfielders, one in the hole and an explosive front two. This was in the era just before Premier League clubs began importing foreign players in such huge numbers and -- aside from the Norwegian duo of Stig Inge Bjornebye and Bjorn Tore Kvarme -- the dashing Czech Patrik Berger was only other overseas player in the squad.
The brand of football that team produced was as consistently pleasing on the eye as anything witnessed at Anfield since Kenny Dalglish's last great title winning side, but man for man the 1997 squad does not compare favourably with many of the sides that followed, including that which we see today. For me, only Berger, Rob Jones, Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman from that side would get anywhere near the present team, that's how much the standard of Premier League player has risen since then.
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