Liverpool’s quad may not be impossible

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.

Everton, Leeds, Villa and Sunderland – all went close to winning football’s hallowed double

WHEN Arsenal won the double in 1970-71, it was the first time since Tottenham’s much heralded success of 1960-61. Everyone thought it was an astonishing achievement, yet it was only a decade after their North London rivals had swept up the major prizes. Prior to Bill Nicholson’s side winning

the double, you had to go back to 1896-97 (Aston Villa) and 1888-89 (Preston North End). It was popularly considered to be impossible to win both the premier prizes on offer.

Today we live in an age where the top sides want to win everything. But a leading club’s priorities don’t generally include the FA Cup – the Premier and Champions League qualification are the prizes that will be one and two on the “to do” list at the top clubs. The FA Cup and Football League Cup – wrongly – are consolation prizes. In the days when Tottenham and Arsenal earned their place in football folklore, success in Europe was a little bit of icing on the cake. The Football League and FA Cup, the everyday “bread and butter” competitions, were how managers and players were largely judged.

The creation of a group of “super clubs” has meant that winning a double is no longer out of the question. When you chase one prize, you go after two and when you position yourself nicely for two, you start to think about three or four. But you can aim for whatever you like and end up with nothing, as most clubs have found out.

Doubles started to become commonplace in the 1990s and early 2000s. The Double has been achieved 12 times, seven since Arsenal’s dramatic 1971 triumph: 1888-89: Preston North End; 1896-97: Aston Villa; 1960-61: Tottenham Hotspur; 1970-71: Arsenal; 1985-86: Liverpool; 1993-94: Manchester United; 1995-96: Manchester United; 1997-98: Arsenal; 1998-99: Manchester United; 2001-02: Arsenal; 2009-10: Chelsea; 2018-19: Manchester City.

Trbles of any kind are even rarer. The only time a domestic treble has been achieved was in 2018-19 when Manchester City were champions, FA Cup winners and Football League Cup winners. Manchester United pulled off the treble of League, Cup and Champions League in 1998-99. Liverpool have won two trebles, in 2000-01 (League Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup) and in 1983-84, the League, League Cup and European Cup.

There have been many near-misses, where a club has won one trophy and finished runners-up in another, or even finished runners-up in both.

1903-04: Manchester City – FA Cup Winners and Football League Runners-up
Newly-promoted City beat Bolton Wanderers 1-0 in the cup final thanks to a Billy Meredith goal. They finished three points behind The Wednesday in the league, despite being top in the final week.

1904-05: Newcastle United – Football League Champions and FA Cup Runners-up
Newcastle won the title by a single point, but went into Easter a point behind Everton and finished with a flourish. Two weeks before clinching the title, they lost the cup final 2-0 to Aston Villa, after beating them by the same scoreline in the league a week earlier.

1912-13: Sunderland – Football League Champions and FA Cup Runners-up/1912-13: Aston Villa – FA Cup Winners and Football League Runners-up
Sunderland Villa were neck-and-neck all season and shared the honours in 1913. Sunderland ended with a 10-game unbeaten run, including a 1-1 draw at Villa Park that all but won them the title. A few days earlier, Villa had won a rough house cup final 1-0 at Crystal Palace in front of 121,000 people.

1947-48: Manchester United – FA Cup Winners and Football League Runners-up
United finished seven points behind champions Arsenal in the league, but won the FA Cup, beating Blackpool in the final by 4-2 in an exciting 90 minutes. United beat six first division sides to win the competition, one of the toughest roads to Wembley.

1953-54: West Bromwich Albion – FA Cup Winners and Football League Runners-up
A goal three minutes from time from Frank Griffin gave Albion a 3-2 victory in the FA Cup final against Preston. In the league, they finished just three points behind Black Country rivals Wolves. Albion’s team, which included the likes of Ronnie Allen, started the season well and were unbeaten in nine games, but ended the campaign indifferently.

1956-57: Manchester United – Football League Champions and FA Cup Runners-up
The “Busby Babes”, who won the league title by eight points, scoring 103 goals, were denied the double by an Aston Villa side who finished mid-table. In the FA Cup final, United goalkeeper Ray Wood was injured and Jackie Blanchflower took over in goal. Villa went two-up through Peter McParland and United’s only response came late on from Tommy Taylor, one of the Babes who perished in Munich.

1959-60: Wolverhampton Wanderers – FA Cup Winners and Football League Runners-up
Wolves lost the league title they had won in the two previous seasons to Burnley by just a single point, scoring 106 goals. In the Cup Final y, Wolves crushed Blackburn Rovers 3-0 in a bad tempered game remembered for the loutish behaviour of the crowd, who showered Wolves in rubbish as they went off the field.

1971-72: Leeds United – FA Cup Winners and Football League Runners-up
These were the days when Leeds were challenging for everything. They won the FA Cup by beating old rivals Arsenal 1-0, Allan Clarke scoring the goal. Two days later, they travelled to Wolves in the final game of the campaign needing a point to clinch the double. They lost 2-1 and Derby won the title. “I’m as sick as a pig,” said centre-half Jackie Charlton.

1973-74: Liverpool – FA Cup Winners and Football League Runners-up
Liverpool were always second best to Leeds in the title race in 1973-74 and finished five points off of top spot. But they easily won the FA Cup when they crushed Newcastle 3-0, two goals coming from Kevin Keegan and one from Steve Heighway. It proved to be Bill Shankly’s final triumph with Liverpool.

1976-77: Liverpool – Football League Champions and FA Cup Runners-up
“Pack up your trebles” said the banner at Wembley as Liverpool tried to add the FA Cup to their league title win. Champions by a point from Manchester City, the Reds lost 2-1 to Manchester United, but a few days later, won the European Cup. No treble, but not a bad season!

1984-85: Everton – Football League Champions and FA Cup Runners-up
Howard Kendall’s young team emphatically won the title by a 13-point margin over Mersey rivals Liverpool. They were unlucky in the FA Cup, losing to 10-man Manchester United by an extra-time goal. Everton also won the European Cup Winners-Cup.

1987-88: Liverpool – Football League Champions and FA Cup Runners-up
This was the Liverpool team of Barnes-Aldridge-Beardsley, playing some of the best football of modern times. They lost just twice in the league and won the title by a nine point margin over Manchester United. The Cup Final produced one of the greatest shocks of all time, Wimbledon’s “Crazy Gang” winning 1-0 with goalkeeper Dave Beasant saving a penalty from Aldridge.

1988-89: Liverpool – FA Cup Winners and Football League Runners-up
Another great story unfolded at the end of the 1988-89 season. Liverpool won the FA Cup in an emotional Merseyside final, beating Everton 3-2. They were seconds away from winning the double when Arsenal scored right at the death through Michael Thomas to win 2-0 at Anfield and take the title back to London. It was one of those nights when you cheered, regardless of your allegiance (Tottenham fans excluded).

2002-03: Arsenal – FA Cup Winners and Premier Runners-up
Arsenal were five points off retaining their title, coming in second to Manchester United. In the FA Cup, they beat Southampton 1-0 in Cardiff, goalscorer Robert Pires.

2004-05: Arsenal – FA Cup Winners and Premier Runners-up
Arsenal won a dire FA Cup final on penalties against Manchester United. They were left trailing behind by 12 points in the Premier, Chelsea taking over from the “Invincibles”.

2006-07: Manchester United – Premier Champions and FA Cup Runners-up/2006-07: Chelsea – FA Cup Winners and Premier Runners-up
Chelsea lost the crown they had worn for the past two seasons to United, who finished six points ahead of Jose Mourinho’s team. But Chelsea won the first FA Cup final at the new Wembley in a lack lustre contest, Didier Drogba scoring the only goal in extra time to beat United.

2016-17: Chelsea – Premier Champions and FA Cup Runners-up
Chelsea were denied the double by Arsenal in the FA Cup final, Wenger winning his last trophy as manager of the Gunners. In the League, Antonio Conte won the title in his first season as manager of Chelsea.

Runners-up in both competitions
1927-28: Huddersfield Town – Runners-up in both Football League and FA Cup
1931-32: Arsenal – Runners-up in both Football League and FA Cup
1938-39: Wolverhampton Wanderers – Runners-up in both Football League and FA Cup
1961-62: Burnley – Runners-up in both Football League and FA Cup
1964-65: Leeds United – Runners-up in both Football League and FA Cup
1969-70: Leeds United – Runners-up in both Football League and FA Cup
1985-86: Everton – Runners-up in both Football League and FA Cup
1994-95: Manchester United – Runners-up in both Premier and FA Cup
2000-01: Arsenal – Runners-up in both Premier and FA Cup
2012-13: Manchester City – Runners-up in both Football League and FA Cup
2017-18: Manchester United – Runners-up in both Football League and FA Cup.

Photo: PA

Football’s hallowed double – those that went missing

WHEN Arsenal won the double in 1970-71, it was the first time since Tottenham’s much heralded success of 1960-61. Everyone thought it was an astonishing achievement, yet it was only a decade after their North London rivals had swept up the major prizes. Prior to Bill Nicholson’s side won the double, you had to go back to 1896-97 (Aston Villa) and 1888-89 (Preston North End). It was popularly considered to be impossible to win both the premier prizes on offer.

Today we live in an age where the top sides want to win everything. But a leading club’s priorities don’t generally include the FA Cup – the Premier and Champions League qualification are the prizes that will be one and two on the “to do” list at the top clubs. The FA Cup and Football League Cup – wrongly – are consolation prizes. In the days when Tottenham and Arsenal earned their place in football folklore, success in Europe was a little bit of icing on the cake. The Football League and FA Cup, the everyday “bread and butter” competitions, were how managers and players were largely judged.

The creation of a group of “super clubs” has meant that winning a double is no longer out of the question. When you chase one prize, you go after two and when you position yourself nicely for two, you start to think about three or four. But you can aim for whatever you like and end up with nothing, as most clubs have found out. At the moment, people are talking about Manchester City completing an unprecedented quadruple in 2018-19. While City are a very impressive side, and have already won one trophy, one slip can quickly change the outcome of a season.

Doubles started to become commonplace in the 1990s and early 2000s but recent years the trophies have been handed out a little more democratically!

The Double has been achieved 12 times, seven since Arsenal’s dramatic 1971 triumph: 1888-89: Preston North End; 1896-97: Aston Villa; 1960-61: Tottenham Hotspur; 1970-71: Arsenal; 1985-86: Liverpool; 1993-94: Manchester United; 1995-96: Manchester United; 1997-98: Arsenal; 1998-99: Manchester United; 2001-02: Arsenal; 2009-10: Chelsea; 2018-19: Manchester City.

There have been many near-misses, where a club has won one trophy and finished runners-up in another, or even finished runners-up in both.


1903-04: Manchester City – FA Cup Winners and Football League Runners-up
Newly-promoted City beat Bolton Wanderers 1-0 in the cup final thanks to a Billy Meredith goal. They finished three points behind The Wednesday in the league, despite being top in the final week.


1904-05: Newcastle United – Football League Champions and FA Cup Runners-up
Newcastle won the title by a single point, but went into Easter a point behind Everton and finished with a flourish. Two weeks before clinching the title, they lost the cup final 2-0 to Aston Villa, after beating them by the same scoreline in the league a week earlier.


1912-13: Sunderland – Football League Champions and FA Cup Runners-up/1912-13: Aston Villa – FA Cup Winners and Football League Runners-up
Sunderland Villa were neck-and-neck all season and shared the honours in 1913. Sunderland ended with a 10-game unbeaten run, including a 1-1 draw at Villa Park that all but won them the title. A few days earlier, Villa had won a rough house cup final 1-0 at Crystal Palace in front of 121,000 people.


1953-54: West Bromwich Albion – FA Cup Winners and Football League Runners-up
A goal three minutes from time from Frank Griffin gave Albion a 3-2 victory in the FA Cup final against Preston. In the league, they finished just three points behind Black Country rivals Wolves. Albion’s team, which included the likes of Ronnie Allen, started the season well and were unbeaten in nine games, but ended the campaign indifferently.


1956-57: Manchester United – Football League Champions and FA Cup Runners-up
The “Busby Babes”, who won the league title by eight points, scoring 103 goals, were denied the double by an Aston Villa side who finished mid-table. In the FA Cup final, United goalkeeper Ray Wood was injured and Jackie Blanchflower took over in goal. Villa went two-up through Peter McParland and United’s only response came late on from Tommy Taylor, one of the Babes who perished in Munich.


1959-60: Wolverhampton Wanderers – FA Cup Winners and Football League Runners-up

Wolves lost the league title they had won in the two previous seasons to Burnley by just a single point, scoring 106 goals. In the Cup Final y, Wolves crushed Blackburn Rovers 3-0 in a bad tempered game remembered for the loutish behaviour of the crowd, who showered Wolves in rubbish as they went off the field.


1971-72: Leeds United – FA Cup Winners and Football League Runners-up
These were the days when Leeds were challenging for everything. They won the FA Cup by beating old rivals Arsenal 1-0, Allan Clarke scoring the goal. Two days later, they travelled to Wolves in the final game of the campaign needing a point to clinch the double. They lost 2-1 and Derby won the title. “I’m as sick as a pig,” said centre-half Jackie Charlton.


1973-74: Liverpool – FA Cup Winners and Football League Runners-up
Liverpool were always second best to Leeds in the title race in 1973-74 and finished five points off of top spot. But they easily won the FA Cup when they crushed Newcastle 3-0, two goals coming from Kevin Keegan and one from Steve Heighway. It proved to be Bill Shankly’s final triumph with Liverpool.


1976-77: Liverpool – Football League Champions and FA Cup Runners-up
“Pack up your trebles” said the banner at Wembley as Liverpool tried to add the FA Cup to their league title win. Champions by a point from Manchester City, the Reds lost 2-1 to Manchester United, but a few days later, won the European Cup. No treble, but not a bad season!


1984-85: Everton – Football League Champions and FA Cup Runners-up
Howard Kendall’s young team emphatically won the title by a 13-point margin over Mersey rivals Liverpool. They were unlucky in the FA Cup, losing to 10-man Manchester United by an extra-time goal. Everton also won the European Cup Winners-Cup.


1987-88: Liverpool – Football League Champions and FA Cup Runners-up
This was the Liverpool team of Barnes-Aldridge-Beardsley, playing some of the best football of modern times. They lost just twice in the league and won the title by a nine point margin over Manchester United. The Cup Final produced one of the greatest shocks of all time, Wimbledon’s “Crazy Gang” winning 1-0 with goalkeeper Dave Beasant saving a penalty from Aldridge.


1988-89: Liverpool – FA Cup Winners and Football League Runners-up
Another great story unfolded at the end of the 1988-89 season. Liverpool won the FA Cup in an emotional Merseyside final, beating Everton 3-2. They were seconds away from winning the double when Arsenal scored right at the death through Michael Thomas to win 2-0 at Anfield and take the title back to London. It was one of those nights when you cheered, regardless of your allegiance (Tottenham fans excluded).


2002-03: Arsenal – FA Cup Winners and Premier Runners-up
Arsenal were five points off retaining their title, coming in second to Manchester United. In the FA Cup, they beat Southampton 1-0 in Cardiff, goalscorer Robert Pires.


2004-05: Arsenal – FA Cup Winners and Premier Runners-up

Arsenal won a dire FA Cup final on penalties against Manchester United. They were left trailing behind by 12 points in the Premier, Chelsea taking over from the “Invincibles”.


2006-07: Manchester United – Premier Champions and FA Cup Runners-up/2006-07: Chelsea – FA Cup Winners and Premier Runners-up
Chelsea lost the crown they had worn for the past two seasons to United, who finished six points ahead of Jose Mourinho’s team. But Chelsea won the first FA Cup final at the new Wembley in a lack lustre contest, Didier Drogba scoring the only goal in extra time to beat United.


2016-17: Chelsea – Premier Champions and FA Cup Runners-up
Chelsea were denied the double by Arsenal in the FA Cup final, Wenger winning his last trophy as manager of the Gunners. In the League, Antonio Conte won the title in his first season as manager of Chelsea.


Runners-up in both competitions
1927-28: Huddersfield Town – Runners-up in both Football League and FA Cup
1931-32: Arsenal – Runners-up in both Football League and FA Cup
1938-39: Wolverhampton Wanderers – Runners-up in both Football League and FA Cup
1961-62: Burnley – Runners-up in both Football League and FA Cup
1964-65: Leeds United – Runners-up in both Football League and FA Cup
1969-70: Leeds United – Runners-up in both Football League and FA Cup
1985-86: Everton – Runners-up in both Football League and FA Cup
1994-95: Manchester United – Runners-up in both Premier and FA Cup
2000-01: Arsenal – Runners-up in both Premier and FA Cup
2012-13: Manchester City – Runners-up in both Football League and FA Cup
2017-18: Manchester United – Runners-up in both Football League and FA Cup.

 

 

Photo: PA