One by one, Jurgen Klopp began to rattle off the names. He had been asked about the prospect of an FA Cup shootout with Manchester City, but the Liverpool manager had already considered the bigger picture and started to work out his team’s April schedule.
It was Watford at home first, Klopp said with a fanciful smile. Then a trip to Lisbon, where Benfica awaits the quarter-finals of the Champions League. After that it’s City – at the Etihad Stadium – in a game that comes in the Premier League title decider ahead of the second leg against Benfica.
Once the fighting with the Portuguese giants is over, the time will come to return to Wembley to face off with Pep Guardiola’s side. Klopp could have paused to catch his breath here, but there was more. Much more. Manchester United and Everton at Anfield, to be precise.
Next month will determine what is possible for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool as they continue the story
Liverpool currently sit second in the Premier League table behind Manchester City.
The term ‘season-defining’ is scattered widely at this stage of every campaign but, for Liverpool, there is no escaping it: those 22 days next month, when they play seven games and cover 3,500 miles, will determine what is possible as they relentlessly pursue the story.
Klopp has once called his team ‘monsters of mentality’, but the pressure that will come to bear on this group will be unprecedented. The only comparable situation was in 2001, when the late Gérard Houllier’s side were aiming for a treble in the Cup and qualification for the Champions League.
Then, as now, Liverpool needed to keep winning to cross the line. They lucked out along the way and scored some magical victories but – apart from a trip to Goodison Park during the race – they didn’t have to deal with the added problem of historic rivalries to boot.
Klopp’s Premier League side will play seven games and cover 3,500 miles in 22 days
Klopp once called his team ‘monsters of mentality’ for their attitude towards training and games
Everywhere Klopp looks in April there will be a screeching and screaming ensemble of opposition fans, excited at the prospect of being the ones to put a spanner in the works. Do you think United and Everton, whatever their erratic form, will come to Anfield and fold?
“We’re talking about the quadruple and that’s a big question – we know that – but they’re capable,” said Robbie Fowler, a veteran of the historic team from 2001. “There’s an argument that it’s probably one of the best Liverpool teams we’ve ever seen and that’s a statement and a half.”
“We have seen great Liverpool teams and players over the years. But I think this team has it all. They work hard for each other, in terms of team ethic, which Jurgen instills in them is great.
And how hard they must work in Nottingham. Speaking of historic rivalries, there were plenty within The City Ground – which bounced and rattled from start to finish – who remembered when, in the 1980s, it was one of the most defining matches in the game. English soccer.
However, the pressure that will be on this current group is going to be unprecedented.
Also, rival fans will want their team to be the ones that put a spanner in the works.
Forest, expertly managed by the impressive Steve Cooper, threw everything they had at Liverpool. Cooper lamented that his side weren’t as smart in possession as he would have liked them to be but, for long games, the tie was delicately balanced.
Things, of course, would have been very different if Roberto Firmino, taking over as main striker with Mohamed Salah injured and Sadio Mane rested, had gobbled up Liverpool’s first real chance in the 28th minute. .
Firmino’s curious attempt to finish after Joe Worrall’s misguided back pass did nothing to deter those who think he’s now more effective in short bursts of action rather than leading the line for an entire game, what his statistics would confirm.
He had scored nine goals before arriving at Nottingham and all but a Premier League hat-trick at Watford on 16 October had come from the bench; to give you an idea of the Brazilian’s display, Klopp burst into fury at him at some point in the second half – something you rarely, if ever, see.
Robbie Fowler (above) thinks Liverpool are ‘capable’ of winning the treble this season
His emotions, however, told you what was at stake. The comparison has already been made about Liverpool walking on a high wire, but it really is the best analogy because what if Philip Zinckerangel had scored for Forest in the 75th minute?
All has to be well if Liverpool are to achieve what they want – and it shouldn’t be forgotten either that City are chasing a treble of their own – and it was certainly a contest when they won without being at their best.
You could see what that meant in the end. Jordan Henderson, introduced to bring some order and calm, waved his hands above his head and roared in delight as referee Craig Pawson whistled as another big hurdle had been cleared.
The problem is that the hurdles are going to get bigger and bigger and it’s up to them to be as perfect and smooth as an athlete going for gold in the 110 meters at the Olympics. Get through this period unscathed and anything will be possible.