Reds destined to be biggest losers
WITH 85 points, Liverpool have already done better than nine previous Premier League-winning teams. But in a season of near-perfection, that means nothing.
There is no room for error and Jurgen Klopp's team almost certainly will have to win every one of their remaining four games, which would see them finish on 97 points - an astonishing total that would surpass every other title winner in Premier League history ... except for Manchester City.
Barring a slip up in their final five fixtures - the next two against Tottenham and Manchester United will make for nail-biting viewing - City are on course for 98 points.
This would be heartbreaking for Liverpool fans, dragging on their 30-year wait for an end to the club's title drought.
The Champions League offers another route to glory but it is the league title that Reds fans truly desire, a trophy they still see as their own, even a generation on from the club's golden age of supremacy.
And this would be the fourth time Liverpool would finish as runners-up, each time finishing with a points total that would more often than not have been enough, if not for the exceptional team in front of them.
Back in 2001/02, Gerard Houllier's Reds were on a high after the previous season's historic treble but even with a terrorising Michael Own leading the line and the stingiest defence in the league, they couldn't overtake Arsenal, finishing seven points behind the Gunners on 80 points.
In 2008/09, Liverpool had a team boasting Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano and Steven Gerrard in his prime. They beat Manchester United home and away, scoring more goals than their biggest rivals to finish with a mighty 86 points and a +50 goal difference - but they couldn't stop Alex Ferguson's team claiming yet another title by four points.
And the cruellest of all came five years ago, the season of "the slip". The Reds claimed 84 points and scored 101 goals as Brendan Rodgers' side, featuring Luis Suarez and a fully functioning Daniel Sturridge, ripped Premier League defences to shreds. The only problem was the 50 goals their defence conceded, and the iconic stumble against Chelsea, as Manchester City claimed the title by two points.
But Liverpool aren't the only ones to go so close. Man United finished second on 85 points in 2009/10, as Chelsea won the double. Spurs pushed Chelsea all the way in 2016-17, to finish with 86 points - but still six behind Antonio Conte's side. And United claimed 89 points in 2011-12 yet still lost to City by one point in that infamous finale.
But to finish as runners-up on 97 … to go so high and still fail … such are the standards set by Pep Guardiola's Manchester City.
At the end of the weekend, Liverpool travel to relegation-threatened Cardiff, whose recent victory over Brighton revealed a desperation for survival could make for a potential banana skin. But Klopp's team have shown real determination in recent weeks, a growling hunger that makes their already aggressive style almost impossible to deny.
Of course, there is no such thing as sure thing in football. City must first get three points off a Tottenham side that so cruelly and painfully dumped them out of the Champions League, a roller-coaster game that showed even without the injured Harry Kane Spurs are an ominous prospect.
How much will that midweek affect City?
Despite Guardiola's insistence that the quadruple was never truly their goal, there can be no doubt this will hurt. To have Raheem Sterling's injury-time winner snatched away like that… To go so close and still fail…
Is their season cracking under the weight of expectation? Could Spurs repeat the trick in Saturday's early kick-off?
Both sides will be still feeling the effects of a draining encounter, which means City's richer squad depth will likely be a defining factor, as will a craving for revenge.
And this is bad news for Liverpool, as the Champions League exit will only intensify City's resolve to retain their Premier League crown.
One less distraction, three fewer high-intensity games. City have nothing else to think about between now and the FA Cup final against Watford, which takes place after the end of the Premier League season.
All Liverpool can do now is rack up as many points as they can from those last four games.
Win, win, win, win - and even if they do, they could still lose.