THE ONLY credible quadruple in British football was achieved by Celtic in 1966-67, the year they won the European Cup, Scottish League, Scottish Cup and Scottish League Cup. Jock Stein’s all-conquering team played 59 games across that lot, winning 48 and losing just three. They scored 184 goals and conceded 48. This was a great Celtic team that played wonderful attacking football.
Winning a double used to be near impossible, let alone a treble, hence when Tottenham achieved it in 1961, it was the first time it had been won since 1897. The modern treble of Champions League (European Cup), League and Cup has been won just nine times, the most recent being Bayern Munich in 2020 and the only English side being Manchester United in 1999. Manchester City became the first team to win all three domestic trophies in England in 2019, but Liverpool won a treble in 1984 when they lifted the League, the League Cup and the European Cup.
Liverpool could, conceivably, win four trophies this season. They have already captured the EFL Cup, beating Chelsea on penalties, they are in the last four of the FA Cup (where they will face Manchester City), they are chasing the Premier League (where they are up against City) and they have one foot in the Champions League semi-finals (where they may come up against City in the final). In 2021-22, we face the possibility of a campaign that will be defined by a set of Liverpool-City clashes.
Before we analyse 2021-22, however, it is remarkable how the current battle between these two teams reminds us of the days of Leeds United’s golden period when Don Revie’s team chased every prize. In the early 1970s, clubs didn’t have sizeable squads and players often carried injuries into vital games. In 1970, for example, Leeds finished runners-up in the league and FA Cup, were semi-finalists in the European Cup and reached the third round of the Football League Cup. They played 62 games and lost just 10, scoring 127 goals, but finished with nothing. Similarly, in 2008, Chelsea were runners-up in the Premier, Champions League and League Cup and quarter-finalists in the FA Cup. They lost just six games out of 61 but never made the winners’ podium.
The way football has developed in recent years arguably makes it easier for Liverpool to achieve the impossible dream, simply because they are so much better than the majority of opponents they will face. English football has crystallised into a two-horse race with another two or three clubs behind the leading duo. At present, City and Liverpool are the leaders, Chelsea most definitely number three and then there’s Manchester United, Tottenham and Arsenal along with other pretenders to the top four.
Liverpool comfortably won their UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg and unless something miraculous happens, Benfica will not be able to turn around a 3-1 deficit. In all probability, they will face Bayern Munich in the semi and on current form and strengths, they should beat the Bundesliga champions. The smart money is on another all-English final, but that also depends on Manchester City, who have a narrow 1-0 lead over Atlético Madrid from the first leg.
Liverpool face Manchester City on April 10 and this could be the moment the Premier League title race becomes a little clearer. Liverpool’s two league defeats have both been away, but two of City’s three losses have been at the Etihad. City seem to have problems with a certain type of side, they have dropped points against Tottenham (City gain 0), Crystal Palace (1) and Southampton (2) this season. The only other team to take points has been Liverpool.
The FA Cup has already got its big ticket bout in the form of City versus Liverpool in the semi-final. At present, Liverpool may have the edge on Pep Guardiola’s side, they have won 10 in a row in the Premier and they’ve lost just three games all season. Liverpool have more options than when they joyously won the Premier League in 2020, notably up front with Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz (both 25) being added to the Salah-Firmino-Mané trio. Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino are both 30 now and Mo Salah reaches that landmark later this year. Virgil van Dijk and Joël Matip are both 30 and Jordan Henderson is a year older. Liverpool’s team is at its peak, so 2021-22 may be the current XI’s best chance of immortality. City have over-30s such as Kevin De Bruyne (30), Kyle Walker (31), İlkay Gündoğan (31) and Riyad Mahrez (31), but they have a deep squad.
Liverpool seem more relaxed than during the 2018-2020 period when the anxiety about a lack of a league title hung heavily over the club. They won the Champions League in 2019, were denied by City after a sensational season, and a year later, broke the hoodoo of 30 years and won the Premier. Although they finished a disappointing third in 2021, missing Virgil van Dijk and perhaps fatigued by the previous two years, they regained their mojo from 2019-20.
It’s not just a Liverpool quadruple at stake. City could also win a treble (the treble) of UEFA Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup. Chelsea have won two “prizes” already in the FIFA Club World Cup and UEFA Super Cup, so they could end with four, even if two are relatively insignificant baubles. Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid, Benfica and Villareal cannot win a treble of any sort.
History tells us that going for everything on all fronts usually ends in tears. Teams are tired, injuries and suspensions play havoc with selection and every game becomes a cup final. The pressure often gets to the sides striving for perfection. Liverpool and Manchester City, not to mention Chelsea, have learned to live with intensity. There is something “automatic” about the way the top teams perform these days and multiple triumphs are no longer unthinkable. Don’t be surprised if Liverpool win everything or Chelsea or Manchester City win two or three tin pots. Polarisation of elite football has given us the tableaux of the crowded trophy cabinet.