Saturday’s FA Cup Fourth Round pitted Liverpool against West Ham, in one of the few all-Premier League ties at this stage of the competition. Jurgen Klopp’s decision to play a team boasting a plethora of young talent and resting first-team players such as Roberto Firmino, James Milner and Jordan Henderson, while commendable for allowing young players first team experience, belies the ultimate importance of cup competitions for a transitional Liverpool side this season.
Liverpool’s 0-0 draw with West Ham at Anfield means that Liverpool will now play at least 7 games in February, on top of the 9 games played by the Reds in January. The League Cup final, two Europa League matches, three Premier League games and one, maybe even two, FA Cup ties now occupy the Red side of Merseyside already feeling the strain after a string of injuries to first-team players.
Despite Klopp’s comments over the number of games Liverpool have had to play, decent runs in the Europa League and the FA Cup, to match the final they have already reached in the League Cup, would show to be a statement of intent by the Reds boss in his first season in English football.
“Liverpool would be forgiven for thinking that this season presents a unique opportunity within cup competition”
While finishing fourth in the Premier League and occupying a Champions League place would always be the objective for a side desperately trying to re-occupy Europe’s elite on a regular basis, the inconsistency of Liverpool’s league form suggests that such a target may well be insurmountable, with Arsenal, Manchester City, Tottenham and even surprise package Leicester still making the pace at the top.
Manchester City are still fighting on four fronts, with a Champions League round-of-16 tie against Dynamo Kiev presenting their best opportunity to reach the quarter finals since they broke into Europe’s elite.
FA Cup holders Arsenal, with Barcelona to face in the Champions League round-of-16, find themselves with the best opportunity to win the league title they have craved since 2004, and would be forgiven for focusing more on the most coveted of domestic prizes.
With Leicester already out of the FA Cup and Tottenham also chasing a top-four place, Liverpool would be forgiven for thinking that this season presents a unique opportunity within cup competition.
“The slower playing style of continental sides would make Klopp’s high-energy, high-pressing style employed by Liverpool all the more effective”
Manchester City present a tough prospect in the League Cup final, but if the 4-1 drubbing at the Etihad is anything to go by, Liverpool will certainly feel they have a chance to win their first major trophy since 2012. The air of optimism such a victory would achieve could provide the springboard for Liverpool to compete in what may be their best chance of reaching the Champions League next season: the Europa League.
Klopp’s European exploits while at Borussia Dortmund, in reaching the Champions League final in 2013 and beating the likes of Real Madrid along the way, highlight his talent as a tactician against European sides. The slower playing style of continental sides, with the obvious exceptions of the Real Madrid’s, Barcelona’s and Bayern’s of this world, would make Klopp’s high-energy, high pressing style employed by Liverpool all the more effective.
In addition, that split-second more time on the ball would mean that players like Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and even Adam Lallana can show their creativity in more ways than their league statistics suggest.
With the Europa League winners now winning a Champions League place for the following season, it presents the unique opportunity of silverware craved by the Liverpool faithful, and a place in the Champions League. As statements of intent go for Klopp, it is a fairly substantial one.
In a team the has often looked desperately short of confidence this season, a cup victory or two would do them the world of good, starting with the League Cup Final in February. Who knows how far the team can go following such a success.
What ultimately meant that Brendan Rodgers was sacked back in October 2015 was not his inability to consistently reach the Champions League places; Liverpool fans have been dealing with this disappointment since 2009. It was his inability to win a trophy within this failure.
If Klopp can win the League Cup and Europa League, for instance, and keep Liverpool fan’s interested in the FA Cup towards April and May, the future’s looking a lot rosier around Anfield in just a few short months.
If you had asked Liverpool fans back in October for two trophies and Champions League football next term and they would have yanked your arm off. And the same rings true today.