During Jurgen Klopp’s first six years in charge of Liverpool, it seemed as though domestic cup competitions were little more than an inconvenience that provided distractions from bigger prizes.
Klopp led Liverpool to the Carabao Cup final in 2015-16, his first season in charge, when cups took priority over a scabby Premier League campaign, but otherwise, the furthest the Reds progressed was the quarter-finals of the same competition in 2019-20.
In the FA Cup, Liverpool were conquered by West Ham, Wolves, West Brom, Wolves again, Chelsea and Aston Villa, all before the last eight. In Klopp’s first FA Cup game – a 2-2 draw against Exeter City at St James Park in 2016 – the average squad number of Liverpool’s eleven starters was 34.
Klopp and Liverpool simply had more important matters to attend to. During his time in England, Mauricio Pochettino was criticised by some for saying that winning FA Cup “would not change Tottenham’s life”, the inference being that only Premier League or Champions League success would take the club to the next level.
Klopp may not have publicly said so, but his strategy was the same as Pochettino’s. The first step was guiding Liverpool back into the Champions League, then it was moulding a team capable of competing with the best and finally, it was beating them. Winning a sixth European Cup in 2019 and a first league title in three decades in 2020 were the “life-changing” moments that Pochettino eluded to; Liverpool went from being a very good team to a great one.
Having won the major trophies, the smaller ones suddenly become more appealing. Claiming a quadruple would be another significant milestone, purely because it has never been done before. The only way to reach such immortality is to win the whole lot.
How to watch the FA Cup final
Date: Saturday 14 May
Kick-off time: 5.45pm
TV Channel: BBC One
Stream: BBC iPlayer
“This season so far, I think we all agree, is a very successful season,” Klopp acknowledged on Friday. “But without winning anything, it will not be the season.
“We won the Carabao Cup already but we are Liverpool, we are a world-class club, we have a world-class team, so it’s difficult to define a season as absolutely perfectly successful if you win the Carabao Cup only with being in all the other finals.
“The decisive part is coming now, no problem at all. But the icing on the cake is still missing and we are working on that now.”
He added: “There’s a really good reason why a team has never before had a chance to become champions and qualify for three cup finals – because it is unbelievably difficult.”
Perhaps Klopp made a conscious decision to attack all four competitions this season; perhaps an unusual schedule and the alignment of the fixture list has helped Liverpool compete on multiple fronts until May; or perhaps Liverpool finally possess the quality of depth to go the distance.
Mo Salah has been named on the bench in two of Liverpool’s last three league games, kept fresh specifically for matches like this one; such a prospect would have been unthinkable even just a few months ago. Where once there was the front three, now there’s a famous five.
Whether through circumstance, design or a bit of both, Liverpool are on the cusp of winning both domestic cups, having already defeated Chelsea in the Carabao Cup final. Should they overcome Thomas Tuchel’s team once again, the season would already be considered a success even if the Premier League trophy ends up in Manchester and the Champions League in Madrid.
If you cannot win the top prizes make sure you are in a position to win everything else. It has taken some time, but Liverpool have now reached that point. The bulk of this squad has won virtually everything, the one trophy missing from the cabinet is this one.