Quad-chasing Liverpool feeling effects of intense schedule before 61st game
Liverpool is heading into the 61st game of a potentially history-making season and the intensity of the schedule is taking its toll on the players.
"They are pretty much sleeping on their massage beds," Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said Monday.
The problem is, the games are getting bigger and bigger for Klopp's team. And staying in contention for an unprecedented quadruple of major trophies is getting harder and harder.
It's two down, two to go for Liverpool after winning the FA Cup on Saturday — in a penalty shootout against Chelsea — to add to its League Cup triumph from February. The team is already booked in for the Champions League final against Real Madrid on May 28.
Attaining the third leg of the quadruple before that is the toughest ask, simply because the Premier League title is out of Liverpool's hands with Manchester City four points clear heading into the final week of the campaign.
City's 2-2 draw at West Ham on Sunday allows Liverpool the chance to trim the gap to one point by beating Southampton on Tuesday, before the two title rivals play their last games on Sunday.
But Klopp is being realistic.
"I don't know the last time City dropped points two games in a row, historically," he said.
Well, that hasn't happened in the league this season. It last happened in December 2020, when back-to-back draws — against Manchester United and West Bromwich Albion — preceded a run of 21 straight wins in all competitions.
But Klopp doesn't just need Aston Villa, managed by Liverpool great Steve Gerrard, to pull off a major upset on Sunday. He also needs Liverpool to beat Southampton and then Wolverhampton, a task Klopp says won't be easy given the tiredness in his players' legs.
While Liverpool is playing barely three days after 120 intense minutes against Chelsea, Southampton will have had 10 days since its most recent game and is known for its high-energy, heavy-pressing style of play under Ralph Hasenhuttl.
Southampton drew both of its games against City this season and beat Liverpool at home last season.
"They'll be completely fresh," Klopp said. "We cannot go there, fall into this game and go, ‘What's going on here?' Southampton is a really well-drilled team, full of energy … and playing their last home game of the season."
Then there's the injuries sustained by Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk during the FA Cup final that makes them doubts for the game. Their fitness status will be checked on Monday, but Fabinho is definitely missing because of a hamstring injury.
However, Liverpool always seems to find a way this season, in whatever match and whatever competition. Unsung heroes are popping up all the time — on Saturday, it was back-up left back Kostas Tsimikas converting the clinching penalty — so Klopp sees no problem having to rotate his team for the Southampton game.
"We sit here and we've won two cup competitions and there's one reason for it. Only one," Klopp said. "It's that we have this group of players that have all stayed on track, all stayed in line ... the atmosphere the group has created is exceptional."
He just wishes Liverpool could have been given an extra couple of days to recover before playing Southampton. Why, Klopp asked, couldn't the game have been played on Thursday, when three other league games are taking place?
"Come on, 120 minutes then we play again on Tuesday. That's massive," he said. "We will see. But I can't wait to play the game. The boys who start the game will go with all they have."
There's no second chances now, though. If Liverpool loses, City is the champion and dreams of the quadruple are over.
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