Three points for a win cost Liverpool the Premiership in 2018-19, but no rule could overwrite the Reds' dominant performance with the English traveling championship.
The Premiership race in 2018-19, the hottest ever between two teams at the top, showed as clearly as ever that "three points for a win" motivates playing to win while also raising the question of whether it really is the best way to pick the league champion.
Here we are at the end of 2018-19, Manchester City has 98 points and Liverpool has 97. No other club in the league is 25 points from the lead.
Three points for a win gave Manchester City the Premiership title. City finished with 32 wins, 2 draws and four losses. Liverpool was 30 wins, seven draws and one loss. The Manchester side finished with two more wins, but Liverpool took three fewer losses.
With three points for a win, it is more prosperous to win than to not lose. It's been the international standard in soccer for 25 years, going back to the 1994 World Cup. In your old-style league giving two points for a win and one for a draw, Liverpool wins that race with 67 points, compared with 66 for Manchester City.
A well-known pro hockey league, the NHL, came upon an ingenious way to split the difference. It breaks ties and decides winners with overtime, followed by a shootout. But it doesn't excessively reward the winner or dock the loser of a game that goes overtime. The winner of that game gets two points and the loser gets one.
Under that scenario, Manchester City has 66 points in hand, adding a point for each draw, and there is a point still on the table for each overtime, so its possible upper limit is 68. Liverpool has 67 points in hand with a possible upper limit of 74. To maximize its standings points and reach 68, City would have to win both of its overtimes. But Liverpool still would tie for the title by winning only one of its seven overtimes, and it would win the title outright by winning only two. One can be pretty confident that Liverpool would have won a championship decided that way.
We've considered three systems here, two of them come up for Liverpool, and only the three-point system comes up for Manchester City. That doesn't mean the three-point system isn't the one that picks out the best team. We can dream up 1,000 competitors that come up with different results than the three-point system, and all of that put together wouldn't prove that three points for a win doesn't pick out the best team. It very well might.
Who won the Champions League, again? Of course, the Champions League and the Premiership are separate competitions and Liverpool winning the Champions League doesn't imply that it should also have won the Premiership.
Here might be a consideration in favor of Manchester City: head to head. The two clubs drew, nil-nil, at Liverpool, and City won, 2-1, in Manchester. At two points for a win, though, Liverpool still would have won the league.
What we have shown here is not that three points for a win doesn't pick out the best team, but only that Manchester City won the Premiership because the league gives three points for a win instead of two.
As far as the traveling championship at the English top level, it was Liverpool, unquestionably and by a landslide. Not only were the Reds' 24 games of title during the year the most recorded in four years of tracking England, but its 19-game streak running from August through the end of December was more games of title than any English club had ever accrued in a whole season.
It also sent Liverpool rocketing from near the bottom to the very top of the all-time standings with 28 games of championship in four years of tracking. City, which broke Liverpool's traveling title streak in January, lasted only two defenses before losing, 2-1, at Newcastle United on Jan. 29. City is second all-time with 25 wins.
West Ham is third all-time with 17 wins, followed by Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea with 16. All three of those clubs held the title between the time Newcastle took it from City and April 14, when Liverpool took it from Chelsea in a 2-0 home field win.
Liverpool held on for four defenses through the end of the regular season and now takes the championship to the start of the 2019-20 season.