Liverpool reached the Champions League final on Wednesday, in that kind of faltering way which reflects their current form.
Despite Jurgen Klopp insisting the Premier League should also be the team’s focus, the Reds have dropped points in three of their last four games.
Chelsea, meanwhile, have scented blood and started to show some good form. A meeting between the two at Stamford Bridge on Sunday has more riding on it than seemed likely weeks ago.
Liverpool are tiring, there’s no doubt about it. As each game is reaching its final 15 minutes, the team is fading rapidly every time.
It wasn’t too apparent in the last league encounter against Stoke because Paul Lambert’s side were intent on grabbing a draw, yet even they might have snatched an unlikely winner near the end.
Liverpool would be the best team in the world if football matches lasted 75 minutes. Sadly for them they don’t.
Looking at the bench of a club about to reach the Champions League final was an embarrassment. There have been some injuries of course, but even at full strength, Liverpool can’t summon up the talent and ingenuity big clubs sometimes need late in games.
Their Sunday opponents called on Pedro, Willian and Alvaro Morata in their last league win against Swansea — players who arguably should be in the first team anyway.
The Londoners have suffered from their usual post-title season slump, despite having great players and one of the world’s top coaches.
They’re still perfectly capable of taking the race for fourth place to the wire though and indeed are favourites to do so given Liverpool’s fitness problems and European responsibilities.
Stamford Bridge has been a lucky ground for the Reds of late. They’ve certainly won there more than they’ve lost.
This often happens in football, as between 1990 and 2004 they couldn’t beat Chelsea away from home once. Once the dam is cracked, so to speak, the water often just gushes through.
The rivalry was artificially stoked by a sequence of seasons in the 2000s when the clubs clashed head on in five consecutive seasons of the Champions League; once in the group stage, once in the quarterfinal and in three famous semifinals.
Honours were even. There were domestic cup clashes too, and while Liverpool were generally regarded as old football elite, Chelsea won trophy after trophy and — like Manchester City now — bristled indignantly whenever the old guard got in their way.
Perhaps the rise of City has somewhat diminished what was once quite a nasty rivalry, but Chelsea vs. Liverpool can still raise sparks, and Sunday will be no exception.
The last time the clubs went head-to-head for a Champions League place was before their transformation under Roman Abramovich. In May 2003, it came down to the final game of the season and Liverpool had again stumbled from a good position.
The Reds needed to win but eventually lost 2-1. For those Liverpool fans who remember such things, the current stumble sends a shiver down the spine.
In 2000, Gerard Houllier’s team turned a Champions League qualification certainty into abject failure in their last five games, one of which was yet another humbling trip to Stamford Bridge.
This year the dropped league points make a bit more sense. This is more like 2005 and 2007 when Rafa Benitez rested nearly all of his first team for upcoming Champions League matches which eventually saw Liverpool win in Istanbul but lose in Athens.
Klopp hasn’t had the luxury of resting many, with fourth still not clinched, but he may gamble on the luxury of a final home game with Brighton to help win the necessary points.
The south coast club are safe after their 1-0 win against Manchester United on Friday but looked a tough proposition. Liverpool will take any favours right now, while doing their usual trick of making an apparently safe situation completely fraught.
This has been a very good season overall and may still have a glorious end, although Real Madrid must be favourites for the final.
What has happened in the run-in with injuries, tiredness and a weak squad overall may act as the wake-up call everyone at the club needs.
Chelsea want the points to keep in the hunt for fourth place and will want to avenge their two home defeats against Klopp in the previous two seasons.
One of those was an unlikely 3-1 win which served as Klopp’s first big win as Liverpool manager. Given his squad at the time and the position Liverpool found themselves in under Brendan Rodgers, he can claim to have moved the club forward in a significant way.
The remaining few weeks will be vital in determining from what standpoint Liverpool attempt to advance further next season.
More Champions League football next season as the holders? Or from fifth place, with a disheartening Europa League campaign to come? As always, you can’t take your eyes off Liverpool for a second.
Steven Kelly is one of ESPN FC’s Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @SteKelly198586.