By Jamie Dunn
Liverpool go into Sunday’s clash with Manchester City knowing a victory would give them the upper hand in the Premier League title race.
The Reds' run at the trophy - after a seventh-place finish last season - is nothing short of remarkable, completely unexpected and unprecedented.
|FUTURE ANFIELD STAR?
|COADY'S SEASON SO FAR
Conor Coady, a 21-year-old product of the Liverpool youth academy, is set to line up at Wembley Stadium for Sheffield United in their FA Cup semi-final clash with Hull City.
Having first been spotted by Liverpool around the age of six playing for a local kid’s team, Coady joined the club’s academy and progressed through the ranks, representing and captaining England at several levels in the process.
Coady was given his full senior debut by Brendan Rodgers in a 1-0 defeat to Anzhi Makhachkala in the Europa League in November 2012, before coming off the bench in a 3-1 win over Fulham in May, playing alongside Anfield legend Jamie Carragher in his penultimate game before retirement.
But his desire to continue to develop and play regularly took him on loan to Sheffield United, where he has become a consistent feature in the heart of the Blades' midfield.
A technically gifted passer of the ball who has the physical presence to play as a holding midfielder or centre-back, but has also added an attacking element to his game while at Bramall Lane, Coady'S attitude and commitment have earned him plenty of praise from those who have already worked with him.
"I always thought he’d have a good chance of being a pro," former Liverpool academy director Frank McParland, who left the club in November 2013 and became sporting director at Brentford, told Goal.
"I wasn't sure what level he'd play at but I knew from the way he'd been brought up by his dad, he was such a coachable kid. He takes information on board very quickly and his attitude in games and in training is fantastic.
"He's always looking to improve and he's a very good listener. All the staff love him, all the kids love him. He's an unusual kid because he was very mature from an early age and people just warm to him. He's got a fantastic personality on and off the pitch. On the pitch he's aggressive and strong and wants to win, and off it he's probably the nicest kid you'd ever meet."
Coady has played no small part in an FA Cup run which brings back memories of 1993, when Sheffield United reached the last four of the competition but were denied a clash with Arsenal - who they could still meet in the final this season - by rivals Sheffield Wednesday.
United, currently in League One, have seen off Premier League opposition in Aston Villa and Fulham and Championship clubs Nottingham Forest and Charlton on their way to the last four, with Coady having featured in every round among his 44 appearances in all competitions this season.
Such consistency, in performances characterised by ball retention and possession, will no doubt have caught the eye of Liverpool boss Rodgers, who is a fan of the promising youngster and has given opportunities to academy products - most notably Jon Flanagan.
"Brendan really liked him [Coady] as an individual, and the way Brendan is playing football will suit him because he is a good footballer," McParland said.
"He wanted him to go out on loan to get experience, to get stronger, to play in front of crowds and all the other things it gives you. It's very rare that you get a Raheem Sterling who goes straight into the first team.
"Most of the others like Andre Wisdom and Conor Coady are going to have to go out on loan to learn their trade and then come back.
"There's no rush for him to get into the first team and stay there. The rush for him is simply to get experience and see how good he can make himself.
"Then hopefully he can have a career with Liverpool or someone else."
He may not be playing a part in what could prove to be the title decider at Anfield on Sunday, but a starting spot at Wembley on Sunday would surely be more than a consolation for Conor Coady.