The idea of this season ending in glory for Liverpool seems little more than a pipe dream, if we’re being completely honest.
It has been a disastrous campaign for the Reds, with injuries depleting them and their Premier League title defence going out in a whimper. Not only that, but a top-four finish now looks highly unlikely, too.
If that Thursday night graveyard shift in the Europa League is to be avoided next season, it looks as though Liverpool will have to do it the hard way: win the Champions League.
With fourth-placed Chelsea five points clear, and West Ham and Tottenham also ahead of Jurgen Klopp’s men in the table, a seventh European Cup does feel like the only logical route back in the top club competition in the world.
As fate would have it, May’s final takes place inside Istanbul’s Ataturk Stadium – the venue of arguably Liverpool’s greatest triumph of all time.
That unforgettable night 16 years ago may never be trumped in terms of a dramatic European final, as the Reds overcame an AC Milan side made up of the some of the best players of the last 30 years.
Nobody expected Liverpool to go all the way that season, and while Steven Gerrard’s famous late winner at home to Olympiakos took them into the knockout rounds, their elimination was expected soon after.
If beating Bayer Leverkusen was no great accomplishment, overcoming Juventus and Chelsea in the quarter-finals and semi-finals seemed unfathomable – both would be crowned domestic champions that year – before even mentioning that freak night against Milan.
The idea of Liverpool eclipsing, or even matching, the dramatic nature of that success seems impossible, but would winning the Champions League be an ever greater achievement this time around?
Before it sounds like this Reds side are being downplayed too much, it’s worth noting that they are in another stratosphere to the team Rafa Benitez had in 2004/05.
Gerrard was arguably the only world-class player at that point, whereas this current crop has elite names everywhere you look. The manner in which they swatted aside RB Leipzig showed that they remain a force on their day, too.
That being said, considering how much has gone against them in 2020/21, the image of Jordan Henderson hoisting the Champions League trophy aloft for a second time in three seasons seems scarcely believable.
While the class of 2004/05 had an outstanding defence to call upon, with Sami Hyypia and Jamie Carragher almost perfect, Klopp’s back-line is makeshift at best, especially with world-class attacking talent soon coming up against them.
Ozan Kabak and Nat Phillips deserve huge praise for the job they are doing, building a partnership and ensuring Liverpool have conceded just twice in their last five games, but they have their limitations together.
It is hard to shake the image of them eventually coming up against a world-renowned attacking unit and simply being outclassed by it, negative though that may seem.
Benitez’s team went all the way because they were extremely difficult to break down, but it is hard to envisage this defence keeping out a string of fantastic forward lines, starting with Real Madrid in the quarters.
The mental toll that this season has taken on the players is also great, highlighting how much resolve will be required to become European champions.
This is a set of individuals who have suffered injury after injury, and disappointing results in abundance this year, not to mention having to play in front of lifeless empty stadiums.
Expecting them to flip a switch and suddenly return to the force of old, without the incomparable Virgil van Dijk, as well as Joe Gomez and Joel Matip, may be asking too much in games of such magnitude and high quality.
On top of all this, the year Klopp has endured would also mean the Reds winning the Champions League would possibly be his biggest achievement.
The 53-year-old has not only lost a string of key men to injuries and been unable to bask in winning the title with supporters, he has also had to deal with the devastating loss of his mother.
This campaign will have taken its toll on the Liverpool manager, no matter how much of a brave face he puts on it, so becoming a European champion after everything thrown in his direction would add another incredible chapter to his story.
This isn’t completely writing off Liverpool, by any means – Madrid aren’t the team they were, while Chelsea or Porto would be beatable in the semis – but it is going to take a monumental effort between now and May.
If Istanbul part one was one of the great underdog tales, repeating that success in the same stadium would be a show of remarkable mental fortitude and team spirit, at a time when the season has been written off by some.
There have been signs of life in the wins over Leipzig and Wolves, but conquering Madrid, probably having seen off Chelsea and then likely having to beat either Man City, Bayern Munich or PSG in the final would be an almighty feat.
Winning the Champions League may not feel as special as it did in 2005, but the manner in which they have been written off and suffered so much adversity would arguably make it even more pleasing.