Perhaps there’s no bigger showcase of Lucy yanking the football away than Liverpool chasing The Quadruple. Because as it got closer, it only became harder and only felt further away. Which sounds stupid, because no team has gotten closer. But fatigue was clear for the last few weeks, and the more matches that piled on to bring the Reds closer to immortality, the more beleaguered they looked while chasing it. It was obvious they were stumbling to the line, while still moving forward, and they fell just before it.
Which leaves fans, and perhaps the players, in a very strange spot. Do you delight in the chase, no matter the end result, given the unique nature of it? Or does it feel empty because it didn’t end with the ultimate prizes? The parade in Liverpool city center suggested most chose the former, and it sounds incredibly stupid and jaded to say, “They only won two trophies.” There are over a hundred clubs in England alone that would swap places.
And yet…there’s a gap. It’s one thing to wave off the idea of a Quad at the beginning or even in the middle of the season when it’s a barely conceivable farce. It’s another to get a look at it and watch it disappear over the horizon. As Agent K says to Agent J when told it’s better to have loved and lost than to have not loved at all, “Try it.”
The easy parallel, and one often cited during Liverpool’s closing run, is the tale of Icarus. Flew too close to the sun, what a moron, ended up dead in the water. And the higher Liverpool flew obviously, the more the wings came apart. Except… Icarus knew the feeling of getting to soar through the sky. So yeah, he’s dead, but he died knowing and feeling something no one else had ever known or felt before, and he saw things no one else had ever seen before him. The old burn out/fade away debate. Maybe the middle path is just for those who don’t dare to dream.
Maybe it stings more as this might be the last iteration of this Liverpool team. Sadio Mane is heavily rumored to want to try something else, and the front three has been the defining characteristic of this Klopp era, making them what they are even before Virgil van Dijk arrived to seal up things at the other end. He’s the first truly foundational player of the team to head to the exit door, and the first without a guaranteed succession/replacement plan. Philippe Coutinho might have felt like that to some, but he never truly fit what Liverpool and Klopp were trying to do. They planned what they were trying to do because they had Mane, who was brought in specifically from Southampton to do those things. His departure only confirms that this will almost certainly be Liverpool’s only look at something previously thought to be untouchable.
Or maybe that empty feeling, or even the delight in having gone through it at all, is that they really couldn’t have done much more. You can nitpick results here and there for sure, you always can, but 92 points is 92 points. In 80 percent of the Premier League seasons that came before, that would have been enough.
In the Champions League Final, Liverpool were the far better team. Madrid can belch up all their tactical “brilliance” of their low-block defending, but had they not gotten perhaps the best goalkeeping performance in a final, it would have bit them squarely in the ass. There is no whiteboard in a dressing room before any match that lists out their plans including the bullet point, “Keeper must turn into a hydra.”
And yet, when Liverpool didn’t score in the first 25 minutes, you knew what was coming. They had shown in all the matches in May, and perhaps longer, that they only had limited bursts within them. Everything else was labored. The FA Cup final was the perfect example, tearing into Chelsea for the first third of the game but barely threatening the rest to end 0-0. And again in Paris they looked labored after their initial foray. Attacks were more jammed into Madrid more than trying to unpick them. The patience to link and probe went away instead of charges or crosses into the muck.
They would have been more sharp and energetic had they not chased four trophies. Take out three FA Cup games or maybe conceding the league earlier might have just added the extra spice to sneak one past Thibaut Courtois that would have changed that whole game. Or the punch to have found a winner against Spurs on the first Saturday in May. On such margins.
Except those margins is how we define things in sports. That’s part of the reason we watch and follow. There’s clarity present that isn’t in so many other areas. You won or you lost. The scoreboard tells all when the whistle blows. In a lot of measures, or by a lot of views, the Liverpool season is only inches away from divine. Which pretty much makes it divine in its own way.
But we don’t attach that kind feeling or adjectives when the score and table says you lost. A seven-game series is essentially a push or a coin flip, but you can’t tell the losers that. One point and one game, after 63 games, is almost an invisible distance. And yet in that microscopic gap is everything, right?
Yeah, they got a little close to the sun. But Liverpool saw the world from an angle no one else did. We all end up in the water anyway.