Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp caused an outcry amongst the British media and many football fanbases by turning his disdain for domestic cup competitions up to eleven, in the aftermath of the Reds’ 2-2 draw against Shropshire outfit Shrewsbury Town.
Suggesting that the Premier League’s winter break had offered him the foresight to give his first team a week’s holiday around the date that the replay will be played, the German manager explained to the media that even he wouldn’t be at Anfield to see who progresses to the fifth round, let alone his first team players.
Klopp’s lack of passion for progressing in the domestic cups is hardly a new thing. Since arriving at Liverpool he’s overseen just one run to a domestic cup final, the Capital One Cup in 2015/16, and hasn’t progressed past the FA Cup fourth round. Despite often bemoaning the hectic schedule English football has to offer and ringing the changes when cup ties come around, he’s never gone as far as to miss a match completely.
So what’s different this time, and does it warrant such a reaction?
Fixture build-up is insane, but Liverpool could put a team out
Discounting the Community Shield, Liverpool’s win over West Ham in midweek saw them reach 38 competitive fixtures already this season, despite January (somehow) not yet being over. If they’d gone further and reached the League Cup final, that total would stand at 40 right now.
Eagerly anticipating the new winter break (if you can call it that) that the Premier League have injected after years of top managers crying for it, Klopp will, in partnership with his sports scientists, have planned accordingly.
In the knowledge, albeit well after the winter break was announced, that an FA Cup fourth round replay would impede this particular spot in his fixture schedule, Klopp may well have been planning to send the kids out in this eventuality for months. Would it have made a difference if he, himself, had made public his plans in advance? Probably not. You’re going to get a reaction, whether real or just for clicks, regardless.
Many Liverpool fans, discounting Anfield Index’s Tom Holmes, have come out in support of Klopp. Why not back a man that’s fucked off the domestic cups, delivering a European Cup and a 19 point gap at the top of the league in the process?
“We play too many games already, Klopp can’t put a team out!” they cry, in an attempt to defend the policy.
Yes, fair enough, Liverpool do play too many games. Being honest, everyone does. However, the idea that Liverpool can’t put a strong team out is ridiculous.
Adrian, Matip, Lovren, Lallana, Shaqiri and Minamino are just a selection of ‘big’ names unlikely to feature in the weekend’s league game against Southampton, and they may well be of the opinion that they’d rather play against Shrewsbury in a bid for form and fitness, and then take a few days holiday, rather than have the entire week off as is planned.
It’s not can/can’t. It’s should/shouldn’t.
Get behind Klopp, but for the right reasons
Honestly, I agree with Klopp. His tirade against the fixture list has reached a crescendo and I’m there behind him, pitchfork at the ready.
Fans suggesting that it would be impossible, over even season endangering, for Liverpool to stick a decent team out are wrong and those excuses need to stop. The Reds are 19 points clear and walking to the title, with a handful of players needing game time and no game after Shrewsbury for well over a week.
However, the supporters are right to back the manager.
Klopp’s decision making process has taken Liverpool from languishing outside the Champions League places to being the best team in world football. He’s one of the most widely respected brains in the footballing community, and you’d struggle to find a handful of managers more knowledgeable than him regarding sports science and the impact of too much football on players.
Sure, Liverpool could put a decent team out on Tuesday, but that’s only within the context of this match, this week. Klopp’s thinking surrounds a broader, more long-term, vision. Finding room for a winter break through one organisation, the Premier League, only to have it contradicted by another, the FA, is a step forward only to be pushed right back.
Whilst the two organisations work together on a number of things, namely suspensions, the lack of collaboration regarding putting a proper fixture list together boggles the mind, especially as the FA Cup continues to be discredited year after year.
Of course it’s a famous trophy and there’s a lot of romanticism that goes with it, but as the financial disparity between the top echelons of the Premier League and winning the FA Cup widen, the finances begin to take priority when decisions are made regarding squad utilisation.
Sure, you feel sorry for the lower league clubs who might feel their big day out is spoiled a little by playing Liverpool’s U23 team, but you only have to see the reaction of Accrington Stanley’s chairman in recent days to realise that really, it’s all about the money for them too.
Football is a greedy, capitalist, dog-eat-dog world. Whether that’s right or wrong is another matter, but if the authorities want Klopp to start taking every competition seriously, they need to start taking the demands of the players and managers seriously.
There’s too much football, Klopp is right to take a stand. Okay, not even managing the team could be considered petty, but he deserves a break too.
Plus, Neil Critchley has much more experience of managing the group of players that will take to the field against Shrewsbury, logically giving Liverpool a better chance of victory. And according to every middle aged man on the internet, Liverpool should be desperate to win… right?