Liverpool head to Southampton on Tuesday evening for the penultimate fixture in their Premier League title chase beckoned by the rare sound of sympathy from an opposing manager.
The Reds must win at St Mary’s to keep alive their hopes of claiming a crown that Saints manager Ralph Hasenhuttl believes is harder to win even than the Champions League.
Liverpool are in a good position to judge, given that they are also still in the running to lift the European trophy as part of a possible quadruple unprecedented in English football.
“This is still the title that’s the most countable for everybody because it’s the hardest to get,” said Hasenhuttl.
“For me it’s even harder to be consistently on the top over 38 games in the Premier League than to win the Champions League sometimes.”
Liverpool know they need to win both of their remaining league games in order to pip Manchester City, despite the leaders only drawing at West Ham last weekend.
Even if they take maximum points against Southampton and on Sunday at home to Wolves, however, it probably won’t be enough – despite the fact they would have accumulated a big enough tally to be champions in 15 of the last 20 Premier League seasons.
In fact, Liverpool’s running total of 86 points would have won six of the last 20 seasons. If they reach 89 with another win, it will be 12 of the last 20.
As Liverpool are finding, winning the Premier League has required an increasingly high points tally. City’s sustained excellence has raised the bar, leaving less and less margin for error.
Five of the last 20 winning points tallies remain out of reach for Liverpool, whatever happens over the next six days. Four of those have come since 2016-17.
The numbers show that, even if they fall short, Jurgen Klopp’s side have had an extraordinary season.
Saturday’s FA Cup final victory means they already have two trophies in the bag. They could repeat the club’s 2005 cup treble by winning the Champions League later this month.
But the need to remain at their peak has taken its toll and Liverpool have, understandably, begun to look a little laboured in recent games.
Having averaged around 2.5 goals scored per game in the top flight this year, they have managed 10 in their last five league games – and one of those was a 4-0 win.
Other stats point to a drop in intensity too: Liverpool’s touches, pressures, tackles, interceptions and blocks are mostly down on their games against the same opponents earlier this season.
The last thing Liverpool needed 72 hours before their trip to Southampton, then, was for the FA Cup final against a dogged Chelsea to go to extra-time and sudden-death penalties.
Their hosts’ form may have tailed off as the season peters out, with seven defeats in their last 10 league games, but Hasenhuttl’s hard-running outfit have at least had more than a week off.
On that count alone, perhaps the Southampton manager’s sympathy for Liverpool is not misplaced.