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In Praise of Potential

It’s April, and the Reds could still win four: what a time to be alive

Fans walk to the stadium prior to the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield on October 27, 2019 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.
Fans walk to the stadium prior to the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield on October 27, 2019 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

How are we feeling, Liverpool fans?

I oscillate. The nerves are there and very real, but often so is the excitement. We’re in the month of April, and the Reds are still in to finish the league with four trophies — well, still actively in for having already won one.

What I’ve been trying to do over the past week or so, after beating Watford, is to revel in the potential of it all. It’s so easy, I think, to get lost in nerves or fears — or to get ahead of ourselves thinking about what’s next given a specific result.

Liverpool could win everything or nothing, or something in between.

And this is something we should be grateful for. Potential is not something we’re unaccustomed to, but the scale of potential this season is unlike anything we’ve had before.

But let’s rewind for a moment.

Something people often get wrong from outside the club is talking about the stretch of time without a league win as “30 years of hurt.” No one inside the club really felt that way, even if the lack of silverware hurt (especially that bit of silverware).

Very often in that 30-year period the Reds rode wave after wave of potential. Liverpool often had something to play for at the business end of the season, in the league and in other competitions — some of which they won, of course. On the surface of it, it’s daft to refer to a period that contains Istanbul as “30 years of hurt.”

It’s not often that we talk about near-misses, though, other than the unlikeliest one: losing the league in 2013/14. There were many others, and too often the fact we fell short can cause us to forget the feeling of each as we lived it.

After winning the league in 1989/90, Liverpool made six quarter-finals in European competition, two semi-finals, and were runners-up four times. In that period, they won a UEFA Cup, two Champions League trophies, three Super Cups, and the club’s first Club World Cup. Between 1990/91 and 2019/20, Liverpool finished second in the league on five occasions, and third six further times. In the same period (pre-league win in 2019/20), Liverpool won four League Cups and were runners-up twice. The Reds won three FA Cups and were runners-up twice.

Liverpool’s Robbie Fowler lifts the UEFA cup trophy with captain Sami Hyypia as manager Gerard Houllier celebrates in the background after winning one of the best cup finals in modern memory.  
Liverpool’s Robbie Fowler lifts the UEFA cup trophy with captain Sami Hyypia as manager Gerard Houllier celebrates in the background after winning one of the best cup finals in modern memory.
Photo by Tony Marshall/EMPICS via Getty Images

While not all of these trophies mean the same — and obviously losses in finals hurt — the point is that this was not a barren period for Liverpool: nearly every season (I don’t acknowledge certain periods, including the Roy Hodgson blip) the Reds gave you something to root for.

There were bad seasons in the league, certainly, and the period between 2010 and Jürgen Klopp coming in were certainly bad times in Europe, but this club has been relatively spoiled compared to many others — indeed, look at the Wikipedia of league and trophy wins for this weekend’s opponents prior to their money influx in the early 2010s if you want to see a long stretch of seasons lacking the potential of winning something for supporters to enjoy over the course of a season.

We concentrate a lot on trophies as though they are the only thing that give following a team meaning. For the vast majority of teams, this simply cannot be the case. We’re lucky that for us, being in for trophies is more expected than not.

But the level of what we can hope for when it comes to this team precisely what makes this season so special.

If we’re used to the excitement of potential at the end of the season, I don’t think any of us have experienced anything like this before including in treble seasons.

Every single game has meaning. While Champions League and FA Cup ties are truly knock-outs (albeit two-legged ones when it comes to the former), league matches fall squarely into the “every match is a cup final” vibe that can be too much of a cliché.

What Manchester City and Liverpool have added to the league is a pursuit of perfection.

Liverpool’s unprecedented injury crisis of 2020/21 seems to have made many of the pundits who predicted this league season forget this, but both of these sides are juggernaughts capable of posting a set of results that leave so little room for less than perfection — of course, while Manchester City seem impervious to draws but can lose unexpectedly, Liverpool seem impervious to losses but can stutter to a draw. The numbers nonetheless draw these sides level, with very little space for error at this point in the season.

What we’re seeing is frankly not normal. When Klopp talks about how much the team could have achieved without City in the same league (and vice versa), he’s deadly serious. This Liverpool side deserved to win the league in 2018/19. They had to settle for just a Champions League when they probably should have had a double — and would have done in most other years.

This is not normal.

And so nerves should be higher than normal.

The match on Sunday does feel like a true title decider, even if there’s a lot of football left to play.

But while the nerves should be heightened, so, too, should our joy.

What we are witnessing in this Liverpool side is truly incredible football.

It’s not just that the Reds could win four trophies this season, it’s that they have the quality in first team, squad, and coaching to probably deserve to win each piece of silverware when taken on its own merit. The level of quality and completeness in this side, in my opinion, belies the statistical unlikeliness of such a feat. Chances and statistical predictions mean nothing to Liverpool FC.

This Liverpool side might be the best to play for the club, might be the most complete. They’re certainly the best I’ve seen in my lifetime.

The idea that this set of lads might finish this season with just a League Cup is well and truly heart-breaking. They deserve so much more. They are arguably the best team in world football at the moment, and they deserve to have that memorialized in their trophy record, which is often all that matters in the historical record. That said, it’s certain that whatever they do, future generations of young Reds will be hearing about this side. And other clubs? We see things they’ll never see. And we should relish that.

By all means feel the nerves: they’re inevitable.

But don’t get so embroiled in arguing about starting lineups and referees that you forget to be swept away by the joy of potential in it all, at least a little bit.

What a time to support Liverpool. Up the Reds.

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