There is very little to bemoan about Jürgen Klopp’s time in charge of Liverpool. One could easily argue there is absolutely nothing to complain about.
If there is one criticism niggling away in the minds of pundits and supporters, though, it is Klopp’s record in the FA Cup.
This was brought to the fore last season in particular when the German not only fielded a team consisting entirely of youth players, but allowed Neil Critchley – now Blackpool manager – to take charge during the fixture. Despite beating Shrewsbury 1-0, the tie will forever be remembered for Klopp’s supposed disregard for the historic competition.
The talk of Klopp’s supposed disrespect to domestic cup competitions is not just restricted to FA Cup, with the Liverpool manager displaying similar tactics in the Carabao Cup as well. After all, it is extremely difficult, if not nigh on impossible, to win everything.
Since arriving in England, Klopp’s record in the Carabao Cup hasn’t been that bad. His runs have produced a runner up finish, a semi-final, a third-round exit and a quarter final that had Critchley and the kids playing against eventual finalists Aston Villa, due to Klopp and the first team squad being at the FIFA Club World Cup. Even this season saw the Reds dominate with a weakened side at home against Arsenal, only for them to undeservedly exit on penalties.
Ultimately, the exits in the Carabao Cup, barring the final and semi-final, have never bothered fans. Squads have to be rotated, for the purposes of both man-management and fitness and, whilst Klopp will of course tell us he wants to win every competition, priorities have to be put in place.
Youth players need a chance and, when going for a Premier League, every point counts so experience must come first, whilst the Champions League puts the Reds up against the elite teams in Europe. Therefore, the cup competitions offer Klopp an initial chance to see what his youngsters are made of, with minimal impact of the club’s season. There’s a reason a quadruple has never been completed – it simply is not sustainable.
Since Klopp’s arrival on Merseyside, his FA Cup record has proved slightly more frustrating. His side has failed to progress past the fifth round, never winning more than two games in a single cup campaign. This has included home defeats to Wolves and West Brom, a poor away performance to Wolves and a defeat at Stamford Bridge last season. Whilst home victories over Everton gifted fans not only a derby win, but a debut goal for Virgil van Dijk and one of the best goals of Klopp’s reign with Curtis Jones’ strike last season.Embed from Getty Images
Having just read Andy Robertson’s new book, Now You’re Gonna Believe Us, there is no question that the FA Cup exit last season, or indeed any season, has come down to a lack of effort. After all, it was a fairly strong starting XI and, were it not for an early error from Adrián, the game could perhaps have gone differently.
It has been a while since Liverpool have had a story to tell about the FA Cup. The final of 2006 holds great memories for me personally – Steven Gerrard’s volley remains my favourite goal of all time. The 2012 campaign ended in disappointment, but a semi-final victory over Everton remains a fond memory of Kenny Dalglish’s second term as manager.
For the first time in 30 years though, whilst Liverpool have the same desire, if not more, to win the league title, they do not have the same desperation. The season is a strange one and it may be wise for Klopp not to put all of his eggs in one basket. Admittedly, this would have been easier to say at the start of the season when Liverpool had a full squad. At the time, rotating the midfield three would likely have meant substituting in the likes of Keita, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Shaqiri. Now, it is impossible for the entire midfield to change without a drastic drop off in quality.
Due to the hectic schedule this season and Klopp’s priority on the Premier League and Champions League, it is likely Liverpool are going to rotate in the FA Cup once again. With the squad ravaged by injuries so far this season, I can fully understand if Klopp goes for this approach.
We will likely see an abundance of changes, with many young players getting there chance once again to stake their claim to be involved in the squad for seasons to come. With the likes of Leighton Clarkson, Jake Cain and Billy Koumetio all training regularly with the first team, this could be their opportunity to shine.
In no way is this article intended to aim criticism at Klopp, to take away from his monumental achievements thus far. It just feels like, for both understandable and slightly less comprehensible reasons, the Reds exits from the FA Cup during his tenure have felt a little frustrating. Only time will tell if this year is when that might change.
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