Six teams completed FA Cup quarter-finals last weekend. All played in midweek. Everton, Sunderland, Liverpool and Chelsea lost, the latter two surrendering leads in the last 15 minutes, while Stoke City and Leicester City both conceded last-minute equalisers. The FA Cup may not have the lustre it once had, but the physical and emotional intensity of a quarter-final is not easily shrugged off.
That is part of the context to Liverpool's unexpected capitulation to QPR on Wednesday night. There were individual and tactical errors, but there was also fatigue. Rangers' match-winner Jamie Mackie said: "They looked tired. They've played a lot of football and [when QPR scored their first goal on 76 minutes] I thought 'we can have a right go here'. They've not had great results away from home and they were tiring."
Kenny Dalglish said he had "no explanation" for the loss, insisting it was not a lack of concentration. How else, though, to interpret Jose Enrique's hapless attempt to clear Luke Young's header which led to Mackie's goal? The other goals were also poor defensively with Shaun Derry beating both Jamie Carragher and Jordan Henderson in the air for the first, and the cross for Djibril Cissé's unchallenged header being allowed too easily.
Prior to the last 15 minutes, however, Liverpool had been by far the superior side and their passing and approach play in patches was very good. "We were creative, thoughtful, professional," said Dalglish. It was the finishing, as has been so often the case this season, which let Liverpool down.
The club's top league goalscorers this season are Craig Bellamy and Luis Suarez with six apiece which is nowhere near enough for a team with Liverpool's pretensions. There is no doubting Lucas Leiva has been missed since his injury, but the Brazilian would not have added many goals.
Defeat all but ends Liverpool's prospects of reaching the Champions League and with a Europa League place secured there seems no reason not to plan ahead and see if any of the club's young players are ready to follow Martin Kelly and Jay Spearing into the team – as well as giving that pair a run. Liverpool have produced – or bought – several England junior internationals in recent years but Jonjo Shelvey, Raheem Sterling, Andre Wisdom, Nathan Ecclestone and Jon Flanagan have made five league appearances between them this season.
A benign run-in, with only Chelsea to play of the top five, should enable Dalglish to experiment. Indeed, it will enable him to rest key players ahead of next month's FA Cup semi-final, and if Liverpool get there, the final. The manager's status among the club's support, secure despite growing murmurs of dissent, should insulate him from excessive criticism should results go awry.
He may, instead, see these games as a further opportunity to attempt to bed Andy Carroll, Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing and Henderson into the team, but poor performances with those players on board will increase supporters' disenchantment.