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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

A Liverpool quadruple: It couldn’t really happen… could it?

It almost went unnoticed amid the air of adulation around Anfield on Sunday, but Liverpool’s FA Cup win over Championship visitors Norwich City was another small step along the road to an unprecedented achievement.

With the season now well over the halfway mark, Liverpool remain well-placed in four major competitions and — in theory, at least — able to pull off a quadruple.

Liverpool have been here before, having taken their pursuit of the game’s big four trophies down to the final few weeks of the season in 2022. That campaign finished with Jurgen Klopp’s side lifting two (the Carabao Cup and FA Cup) and falling agonisingly short in the Premier League (finishing one point behind title winners Manchester City, who were losing their final league game with 10 minutes of it to go) and Champions League (losing the final 1-0 to Real Madrid, whose goalkeeper was voted man of the match after making a record nine saves).

So, they know how hard this feat will be to achieve — and that it is still relatively early days, as they are only into the last 16 of both the FA Cup and Europa League as things stand. But that shouldn’t stop fans dreaming so, with Klopp’s impending farewell at season’s end adding another intriguing subplot, our experts assessed their chances.

Are Liverpool better equipped to win a quadruple this year compared to 2022?

James Pearce: The squad is certainly deeper and there’s the impact of the youngsters who have stepped up so far this season. Another big positive is the injury situation clearing up, with Andy Robertson, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Dominik Szoboszlai all returning to action. Being in the Europa League rather than the Champions League also helps: it’s not the same calibre of opposition. Their passage to the final, in Dublin on May 22, shouldn’t be as demanding as the road to Paris two years ago. Klopp has rotated more than any other top-flight manager this season and being in Europe’s second-tier competition has helped on that front.

Caoimhe O’Neill: Did you see that picture of Thiago with Klopp in training last Friday? It gave off strong Kylian Mbappe/”I will be there, no matter what” meme energy. And although Thiago was fundamental to Liverpool’s close call in the 2021-22 season, this time around his availability will be a bonus not a necessity. Going off that… yeah, maybe they are.

Phil Buckingham: Liverpool no longer have Sadio Mane or Fabinho. And some players who are still there do not have the same influence they did two years ago. But I’m not convinced you could say this group is particularly worse off. For all that 2021-22 side might have an edge, given what they had achieved when winning the Premier League and Champions League together, the current team are showing they are improving and also have depth. Winning one leg of a quadruple — the Europa League — will certainly be easier this time.

Injuries could be an issue for Liverpool as games pile up (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

How will Klopp’s announcement that he is leaving affect it?

Pearce: Speaking to players and staff, they are adamant that Klopp’s exit will galvanise them. They’ve spoken about a collective desire to end this remarkable era on a high. Sunday’s 5-2 rout of Norwich in the FA Cup represented a decent response to the bombshell news, but tougher tests lie ahead and as Klopp’s departure date edges closer it could become a distraction. Virgil van Dijk talked about the importance of “ignoring the outside noise” as the players await clarity on what the future holds. After the outpouring of emotion for Klopp at the weekend, I fully expect the fans to adhere to the manager’s plea to focus their support on inspiring those on the field.

O’Neill: Liverpool are already kings of the double shifts under Klopp but imagine how much harder everyone is going to be working now to ensure a fairytale ‘last dance’. It will be like a Bruce Springsteen & E Street Band tour, but with heavy metal. Three-hour sets, night after night, stadium after stadium. Liverpool fans and players know these are the last of the Klopp glory days. Surely that can only be a positive.

Buckingham: It’s the great unknown. Klopp will have concluded that making his decision public now would galvanise the group: one last hurrah before the separation. I’m minded to agree. The announcement has left the door open for instability to spread but it’s hard to see this group unravelling dramatically when there’s still so much to play for.

Where are they most likely to fall short?

Pearce: Talking about the demands of the fixture schedule last week, Klopp referred to the fact that the fifth round of the FA Cup is in the midweek just a couple of days after the Carabao Cup final against Chelsea. However, being drawn at home in that round to Championship opposition, either Watford or Southampton, should help on that front. Arsenal away in the Premier League on Sunday is tricky, especially with the Londoners out for revenge following the recent FA Cup defeat. Liverpool have also still got to travel to Manchester United, West Ham and Aston Villa. But undoubtedly the biggest danger to their aspirations are Manchester City. Pep Guardiola’s side, who are currently five points behind them in second place with a game in hand, visit Anfield on the weekend of March 9-10.

O’Neill: I’ve watched it happen before, by single points and literal millimetres, so this answer is easy: City. I would watch out, too, for games away to Everton (March 16) and Manchester United (April 6). Even with Klopp’s exceptional results against both teams, I recall goalless draws at Goodison Park and Old Trafford on the 2018-19 title run-in. There’s an argument to say those dropped points were perhaps Liverpool’s undoing, as they finished one point off City in the end.

Buckingham: There’s something ominous about City’s form in the last couple of months. As Liverpool discovered two years ago, there can be a helplessness to trying to stop Guardiola’s side once they’re rolling, and the Premier League still looks the greatest challenge. Liverpool — or any other club trying to deny City a fourth straight title — might need to be close to perfect.

Manchester City are in ominous form (Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Should Liverpool have made more of an effort to strengthen the squad this month?

Pearce: No, I don’t think so. You could have made an argument for signing a centre-back following the loss of Joel Matip to a ruptured ACL before Christmas. However, young Jarell Quansah has filled that void brilliantly. And now Robertson is fit again, Joe Gomez can play centrally, having done such a good job deputising at left-back.

O’Neill: Have you looked out of the transfer window? It has been eerily quiet. Every single squad could do with improvements but right now I think Liverpool are in a strong position. Quansah has made a world of difference in backing up central defence after Matip’s season-ending injury. And Gomez has become the new Mr Reliable. Conor Bradley has provided cover — and now serious competition — for Alexander-Arnold at right-back. The midfield is well stacked, and so is attack. They just really, really need to stay fit.

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Buckingham: Any manager would like more but the dormancy of this transfer window illustrates it is not a favourable market for a buyer. City haven’t bothered strengthening for the second half of the season, nor have Arsenal or Villa. Liverpool could have added bodies but, with injuries easing and youngsters emerging, I’m not sure the need to spend has been there in January.

If Liverpool can only win one of the four competitions, which would it be?

Pearce: It has to be the Premier League title. The other three they are chasing don’t even come close. As special as it was to end that 30-year title drought in 2019-20, Liverpool were denied all the trappings that should have come with such an achievement due to the pandemic. I was one of the lucky few inside Anfield that night when Jordan Henderson lifted the trophy, but it was a strange experience. There were no supporters. There was no parade. Winning the second title of the Klopp reign would trigger some unforgettable scenes.

O’Neill: Obviously, it’s the Premier League. That has always been the big one and winning it would equal Manchester United’s record of 20 league titles. The Irish part of me is leaning towards that blessed Europa League final in Dublin as a glorious backup. The FA Cup feels a bit give or take, although that could yet be the final Klopp game of all (on May 25)…

Buckingham: It’s got to be the Premier League. There will be some who doubt Klopp’s impact if he were to leave English football having won the title once in eight years, so adding a second would go an awful long way to cementing a legacy. The Europa League also has the potential to be sweet, mind — a final, staged in Dublin, a few days after Klopp has said goodbye to Anfield (in the final league game against Wolves)… Best to leave that to a daydream for now.

Jurgen Klopp would love another league title (Phil Noble/AFP via Getty Images)

Which game are you most looking forward to on the run-in?

Pearce: If everything goes to plan, the final week of the campaign really could be extraordinary. Klopp’s Anfield farewell against Wolves on Sunday, May 19, followed by the Europa League final in Dublin on the Wednesday night and the FA Cup final three days later. Imagine that. In terms of picking one game, it would have to be City at home in March. Anfield is going to be bouncing.

O’Neill: After Arsenal this weekend, it’s all about City on March 9 — the last meeting of Klopp and Guardiola in the Premier League. This game always throws up something spectacular and, as it has before, it could well decide the title.

Buckingham: The obvious answer is the visit of City, right? It has the potential to have an enormous bearing on the title race and might end up being the last time Klopp and Guardiola meet in English football. A bookend of an era.

(Top photos: Getty Images)

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