Neil Humphreys: Don't slip twice, Liverpool
It would be a travesty if Liverpool finish empty-handed this season
Liverpool are this close to making history for all the wrong reasons.
Heartbreak is commonplace in football. Every winner demands a loser, but not like this. Never like this. It's as unprecedented as it is unfair.
The Reds don't deserve their current predicament. They truly don't. But they are aware of their potential fate, a wretched fate; an unbearable end to a season that promised everything and may end in nothing.
Liverpool caught a glimpse of the horrors in the Champions League yesterday morning (Singapore time). Their 3-0 loss to Barcelona offered an unwanted sneak peek of the possible despair still to come in the English Premier League.
It's hard to recall an attacking team that contributed so much to a glorious occasion only to come away with nothing to show for their efforts.
That was Liverpool at the Nou Camp. That will be Liverpool if they falter again at Newcastle United on Sunday morning (Singapore time), when anything other than a victory will pretty much hand the title to Manchester City.
Juergen Klopp's men are tiptoeing towards becoming the nearly men once more, an entertaining footnote in a narrative written by their victors.
They fell short in last year's Champions League. Just. They are probably going to falter in this year's Champions League. Just. And if the Magpies shoot them down, they'll fall short in the title race. Just.
But the last one is too much for a fragile psyche, too much for a club that has done almost everything right this season.
Barcelona provided that vicious teaser. Liverpool's loss was a deflating example of delivering all their lines but falling flat on stage anyway. Now imagine that failure extrapolated across 38 league games. It's unthinkable.
Even if the Reds win their remaining games, they'll still probably finish second with 97 points - enough to take the trophy in any other season except this one and the last, leaving Liverpool to play Rafael Nadal to City's Roger Federer.
They were great on the day, but not quite the greatest overall.
Except that Nadal still won the trophies that mattered, all of them. The Reds haven't. From 1976 to 1990, the title went to Anfield 10 times. The old First Division was owned on Merseyside.
But the EPL passed them by. Since its birth in 1992, Liverpool stopped growing, dwarfed by those omnipresent shadows from Manchester, first red and then pale blue.
Anfield is no stranger to near misses, but nothing comes close to the fine margins on display now. Gerard Houllier, Rafael Benitez and Brendan Rodgers all flirted with EPL glory, but their puzzles lacked the correct pieces.
Liverpool were always a goalkeeper, a centre-back, a winger or even a striker short of dominating domestic football.
But Klopp has all his pieces in place. There are no discernible flaws. He took the game to Barcelona at the Nou Camp. His goalkeeper, back four and front three, with Roberto Firmino, are a match for anything that the Reds have produced in the EPL era.
But Pep Guardiola also has his pieces in place. He just has slightly better pieces, like Barcelona. And that seems unnecessarily cruel.
Not content with such pitiless circumstances, fate has even conspired to throw up a new banana skin in the shape of an old hero. Benitez engineered the Miracle of Istanbul. Now he's plotting the misery of Liverpool.
His mercurial Newcastle side have little to play for, now that EPL football is guaranteed for another season, but his opponents are wounded.
The Reds' proud 19-game unbeaten run also ended in Barcelona, elevating the pressure to make amends at St James' Park but also adding to the uncertainty.
Barring another miraculous recovery, the Champions League looks just about done. Liverpool are potentially 90 minutes away from saying the same about the EPL.
The fear of failure must be paralysing, knowing that they are this close to ending 29 years of being the nearly men.
But the worst part must be knowing there is no one to blame should they fail, no fumbling goalkeeper or squad deficiency to point a finger at. They've done nothing wrong.
They've shaken off the so-called choker's tag, silenced every critic and cleared almost every EPL challenge without ever sacrificing their attacking principles.
Whatever box you care to tick, Liverpool deserve this title. They've earned it.
They simply cannot slip twice in a week.
At St James' Park, the away fans will send out familiar instructions to their team.
Walk on with hope in your heart.
But it'll be impossible for Liverpool to do that if they lose again. And it'll be utterly heartbreaking to watch.
BARCELONA: Ter Stegen, Roberto (Alena 90+4), Pique, Lenglet, Alba, Rakitic, Busquets, Vidal , Messi, Suarez (Dembele 90+3), Coutinho (Semedo 60)
LIVERPOOL: Alisson, Gomez, Matip, van Dijk, Robertson, Milner (Origi 84), Fabinho, Keita (Henderson 24), Salah, Mane, Wijnaldum (Firmino 78)
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