One day a team will win all four trophies in the same season. This is not that season.
Liverpool are about to embark on an epic April in pursuit of the elusive quadruple. They begin at Anfield with a relatively downbeat Premier League match against Watford. After that, the ante gets upped rapidly: Benfica home and away in the Champions League; Manchester City in the league at the Etihad and the FA Cup at Wembley; Manchester United and Everton at Anfield as the title race builds to a climax; and the month is rounded out by a visit to Newcastle United, the next megamoney club.
It will be exhausting, exhilarating and bursting with drama. Jurgen Klopp’s team is full of confidence and ready for the challenge.
With the League Cup already under their belt, Liverpool are in a great position. Yet talk of winning all four competitions obscures another remarkable fact. City still have a treble in their sights and Pep Guardiola’s team are subject to the same pressures and fixture congestion as their Merseyside rivals. These are two of the most dominant sides in Premier League history. Both are too good to allow the other to do a clean sweep – or even collect three pieces of silverware.
City are still the likeliest team to pull off the quad when it eventually happens. Klopp has the best first XI in the top flight but Guardiola has strength in depth. The champions are more adaptable. So much of Liverpool’s game relies on the width created by the full backs and, in particular, the presence of Trent Alexander-Arnold. It is a strange anomaly that Mohamed Salah is the best player in the world at the moment but his absence from him has a less dramatic effect on the team than the loss of Alexander-Arnold. The 23-year-old returned to training this week after a hamstring injury and his inclusion of him in the side is crucial to Liverpool.
Guardiola has the luxury of varying his point of attack. In contrast with City, Liverpool are much more one-dimensional in their tactics. At the Etihad there are more interchangeable parts. Klopp has less room for manoeuvre. The dip in production when Alexander-Arnold is absent is pronounced and the options going forward are significantly reduced.
The quad will happen. All the forces in football are moving in the direction of concentrating power among an ever-smaller number of clubs. The new five-substitute rule will give greater flexibility to those with the strongest squads. The proposed changes to the Champions League will condense wealth further. The wider game is becoming less competitive but at the heights of the sport – where Liverpool and City reside – the competition will be even keener. That makes it unhealthy overall but the Super Sundays will get bigger and more overhyped by the year.
This month’s Deloitte rich list put City at the top for the first time. The figures were skewed by the pandemic but, even so, the Abu Dhabi-owned club’s level of sponsorship sent a shiver through the rest of football. City have access to income – through their Emirati owners – that even Manchester United cannot replicate. No one, not United, not Liverpool, not even Barcelona or Real Madrid, can match City in this respect. The richest clubs invariably dominate. The future belongs to the Etihad.
However, Liverpool can go top of the table tomorrow afternoon if they see off Watford. Roy Hodgson is attempting to save the Hornets from relegation and it would give Kopites almost as much pleasure to push their former manager towards the drop as it would to pile the pressure on City. Guardiola’s side should return to the summit in quick order after their visit to Turf Moor. Burnley also need the points to fight their way out of the bottom three but the gulf between Sean Dyche’s team and City is just too wide.
The margins are close between Liverpool and the champions and that makes it impossible to predict with any certainty which team will come out on top in the Premier League. It is clear, though, that for City to win three trophies and their rivals to win four would take a mindboggling run of luck.
The bottom line is that Liverpool lack top-class numbers beyond their best 14 players. City’s replacements are better overall than Anfield’s but Klopp’s team are good enough to halt the progress of Guardiola’s side. For now.
The Premier League is a two-horse race. The Champions League has a bigger group of potential winners but the field narrows every season. The quad is around the corner. When it happens it will not be a feat to be celebrated. To the richest go the spoils. The best bet for the first team to win four trophies is still City.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.