The FA Cup has become a lot more important to Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp

With the chances of winning the Premier League looking ever more remote, the two domestic cups have taken on far more importance, starting with Shrewsbury Town on Sunday

Tony Evans
Sunday 09 January 2022 09:07
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<p>Klopp is yet to win an FA Cup or League Cup at Liverpool </p>

Klopp is yet to win an FA Cup or League Cup at Liverpool

Domestic cups do not matter for the big clubs most of the time. And then they do. They have started to matter for Liverpool.

The Premier League was Jurgen Klopp’s primary target this season but the possibility of winning the title became much more remote over two disappointing weeks of the festive period. The margin for error is tiny when duelling with Manchester City. Taking two points from three games leaves Liverpool 11 points behind the champions. No one at Anfield is giving up but pragmatism begins to outweigh optimism when double-digit gaps appear at the top of the table.

Klopp has had little time for the FA Cup and Carabao Cup during his seven years on Merseyside. They get in the way of bigger ambitions. The Champions League is now the priority but the knockout rounds are something of a crapshoot. The best sides in Europe are lying in wait. By the time the last-16 tie against Inter Milan rolls round in mid-February, the Africa Cup of Nations will be over and Liverpool should be close to full strength but the competition is unpredictable.

For now, the Carabao Cup is the best chance of adding to Anfield’s trophy cabinet. The rather artificial furore surrounding the postponement of the first leg of the semi-final against Arsenal on Thursday – the desire to exploit and weaponise Covid seems to have permeated every part of British life – obscured the reality that delaying the game suited no one.

Wembley is within touching distance. Klopp is aware that capturing trophies – even the less prestigious and lucrative ones – has an impact on the mentality of the team. Success becomes a habit. The Champions League victory in 2019 was the catalyst for a title-winning season. A trophy adds to the momentum and the reverse is true. Potless campaigns soon become routine – just ask Manchester United.

The beauty of the Carabao Cup is that it can be banked by the end of February. Manchester City have certainly enjoyed being able to add it to their collection of silverware before the winter is out over the past decade. A victorious visit to Wembley would be welcome for Liverpool, too: it has been 10 years since Kenny Dalglish’s side brought the Carling Cup back to Anfield. The FA Cup is an even more remote memory. Sixteen years have passed since Steven Gerrard broke West Ham United hearts in the Millennium Stadium. Cardiff belongs to a different era.

The world’s oldest knockout tournament is still an afterthought for now. The FA Cup third-round game against Shrewsbury Town at Anfield will likely take place on Sunday even if Klopp’s first-teamers are slow in recovering from the virus. The EFL ruled that 14 first-team squad members – including under-21 players who have made a senior appearance – have to be available. The FA, an organisation much keener to get the games played to protect their TV deal, are happy to see youth players on the pitch if necessary.

Liverpool could have done without drawing Shrewsbury. It is not often that a rivalry forms between a top-flight side and a League One team but the Shropshire club have an axe to grind with Klopp. Two years ago the teams met in the same competition in the fourth round. The problem came after their 2-2 draw at Shrewsbury. The replay was scheduled during the Premier League’s inaugural winter break. Klopp and his team jetted off to the sun, Neil Critchley oversaw Liverpool’s youngest starting line-up win the replay 1-0 and the Kop moved on. But the resentment lingered in Town’s boardroom.

In the notes of the club accounts which were published last year, the chairman Roland Wycherley said that Liverpool’s approach cost Shrewsbury a minimum of £500,000 because there was no live television coverage and Anfield’s ticket prices were reduced. The sense of grievance has been exacerbated because Sunday’s tie has also been overlooked by the broadcasters again, who expected another weakened team from Klopp.

If Liverpool progress, the FA Cup will assume more importance in the manager’s eyes as the rounds tick by. For now, though, gaining a place in the EFL’s showpiece game at Wembley is January’s main assignment.

Klopp didn’t care about domestic knockout competitions. But circumstances change. Now he’s very much up for the cup.

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