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CUP CHAOS

Jurgen Klopp has offically gone too far

An early disclaimer; I’m a Liverpool fan who would go to the ends of the Earth for Jurgen Klopp.

The miracles that man has worked – and is still working – since taking over in October 2015 cannot be understated. He’s not only galvanised a club drifting into obscurity, he’s galvanised a city too.

He will be immortalised in stone when his tenure finally comes to an end, a sad day that is fortunately still years away from fruition.


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Under the spotlight

PA:Press Association
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Under the spotlight

But Klopp irked me this weekend.

After throwing away a two-goal lead against a defiant Shrewsbury Town, the German immediately announced that neither he nor his first-team players will contest the replay next week.

Instead, as in December when they were beaten by Aston Villa in the League Cup, Neil Critchley and his Under-23s will take to the field, this time at Anfield in the oldest domestic cup competition on the planet.

Klopp was quick to address the fact the replay was scheduled during the Reds’ two-week winter break, something the Premier League approved and enforced last season.

Watching from the sidelines

AP:Associated Press
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Watching from the sidelines

“I know that it’s not very popular but that’s the way I see it, the Premier League asked us to respect the winter break. That’s what we do. If the FA doesn’t respect that, then we cannot change it,” Klopp said.

“We have to respect the players’ welfare. They need a rest. They need a mental rest, a physical rest, and that’s what the winter break is all about.

“Then another competition tells us that’s not so important, so we had to make these decisions beforehand.”

Liverpool have played a lot of games this season, featuring in seven different competitions if you include the Community Shield and the Super Cup.

When someone tells you you have to play another game

AFP or licensors
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When someone tells you you have to play another game

But this is unlike the peculiar case study we saw pan out earlier this season.

Back in December Liverpool, by virtue of winning the Champions League, were representing Europe in the prestigious Club World Cup.

Due to scheduling negligence, they were also expected to play in the League Cup against Villa and their Under-23s, despite putting up a decent effort, were resoundingly tonked.

The games were just 24 hours apart in completely different continents and Club World Cup participation is a reward for European glory. Essentially, you don’t exactly get to play in it every season.

This time around the manoeuvre smacks of petulance.

This decision didn’t have to be made as soon as the final whistle blew in Shropshire, they could have weighed up their options. Wait for the dust to settle.

The kids will get another go, this time at Anfield

Reuters
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The kids will get another go, this time at Anfield

Klopp has been a staunch advocate of a mid-season break, branding the volume of games ‘criminal’.

He is right, of course, but this instance creates an opportunity which lends itself to a little rule breaking. They are, after all, more like guidelines.

Liverpool were poor on Sunday, their fringe and second-string players looking short of match fitness and sharpness.

So a replay at Anfield under the lights provides a chance for both redemption and rejuvenation.

The likes of Curtis Jones, Adam Lallana and Divock Origi would all gobble up the prospect of more minutes, while Joel Matip, Dejan Lovren, Fabinho and Naby Keita would benefit from the playing time in their respective injury comebacks.

Jones has lapped up the cup competitions

EPA
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Jones has lapped up the cup competitions

The famed front three, the full backs, Virgil van Dijk, Alisson, Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum can all be given the allotted time off, leaving the others to see off Shrewsbury… as they should do.

Local lad Jones scored a picture-book winner against Everton in the FA Cup third round, but had to wait until the next round of the competition to see more first-team minutes.

As Henry Winter at The Times points out, Trent Alexander-Arnold capitalised on the cups to showcase his brilliance. Look at Trent now.

Jones, who barely makes the bench in Premier League games, will be gutted if that effectively ends his season because the club are solely prioritising the title and Champions League.

Liverpool’s remarkable season has been prided on incredible squad depth and involvement, with it almost impossible to single one player out above the rest.

The FA Cup, then, gives the platform for some of the lesser lights to shine, as Jones, Neco Williams and co. did in that memorable win over Everton at Anfield.

Neco Williams has also impressed

Reuters
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Neco Williams has also impressed

Furthermore, has there ever been a better chance for Liverpool to do what no Liverpool side before them has managed; the domestic and European treble?

Imagine being able to stick that to their greatest rivals down the M63 in Manchester.

The Premier League takes precedence over everything – and rightly so – but injecting further momentum from elsewhere can’t harm squad harmony.

At such a crucial time of the season, if Liverpool’s winning machine keeps on winning it will breed confidence everywhere.

Throwing in the towel in one cup competition, so to speak, seems impulsive when the circumstances aren’t as drastic as they were two months ago.

Salah could still be afforded the time off

Getty Images - Getty
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Salah could still be afforded the time off

Klopp has not shied away from displaying his disdain for a competition that he has never even reached the fifth round of.

But this is a new low when he knows he has the assets to overcome the logistical challenge.

Get them back to Anfield, make the tickets all £5 and ensure an entertaining night under the lights.

Fans will lap it up, first-teamers will appreciate the break, fringe players will jump at another chance to shine.

Isn’t everybody happy that way?