KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- A weary half-smile crosses the face of manager Jurgen Klopp every time he is asked at a media conference, before or after a game, about the prospects of Liverpool winning what would be a unique quadruple for an English club.
Klopp insists the stress of so many high-tension matches renders “almost impossible” the challenge of adding three more trophies to the League Cup in only the next five weeks. However, the manner of Liverpool’s victory over Manchester City in Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final indicated that Klopp’s men are in the ascendancy.
The rivalry with City is high-profile. Liverpool, in beating Manchester United 4-0 tonight at Anfield, overtook City at the top of the Premier League for at least 24 hours before Pep Guardiola takes his Wembley-beaten team to Brighton.
The fixtures pattern is repeated a number of times before the season’s end: Liverpool play ahead of City so City will regularly be asked to play catch-up.
Liverpool should have won more easily in the semi-final than the 3-2 scoreline indicated. They deserved a three-goal halftime lead. Ibrahima Konate headed his third goal in successive games, Sadio Mane punished sleepy control by City keeper Zack Steffen and then scored again with a superb volley just before halftime.
Klopp described this as perhaps the best performance he had seen from the team during his management. They could not maintain that intensity and allowed City a recovery through Jack Grealish and Bernardo Silva. But City were far more superior than the one-goal margin.
Some of the reasons were obvious. Guardiola, feeling sorry for himself, pointed to the injuries which cost him the presence of Kevin de Bruyne, Kyle Walker and Aymeric Laporte. But City never looked like their normal selves. This underlined the importance of De Bruyne to performance and morale but also that City’s substitutes’ bench is not as strong as perceived.
Liverpool have not spent comparative sums but their transfer strategy has been more intelligent. There has been no repeat of the injury crisis which wrecked Liverpool’s defence last season, Thiago Alcantara was outstanding in midfield, Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino were only substitutes and January signing Luis Diaz was a perpetual danger on the left wing.
Klopp knows that the attacking style of fullbacks Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson renders Liverpool vulnerable to deep, angled balls behind defence but, with his attacking talent, he can accept the risk. Whether he wins his gamble will become evident very soon in the Premier League and maybe even against City again in the Champions League final.
Virgil van Dijk, who took the captain’s armband on Saturday until Jordan Henderson’s second-half appearance, has admitted that the players are not deaf to talk of the quadruple.
He said: “It is something that everyone would dream about, to win every competition you participate in, but we will see what it brings. City are still in pole position in the league and Villarreal in the Champions League will be difficult.
“Then, obviously, we have the final of this FA Cup. Nobody has done the quadruple because it is almost impossible but we are in a good moment. We will give it everything. That’s what we can promise until the end of the season and then, whatever happens, we will see.”