Just what does the FA Cup have to do to catch a break? Last year, Liverpool faced much the same situation as they find themselves in today: fighting on all fronts has forced Jurgen Klopp to rest players for an FA Cup tie against lower league opposition only to suffer a draw and a replay just before a League Cup semi final.
The difference this time is that Liverpool don’t have the Europa League to contend with – but given they are still in the title race, that evens out the number of competitions Jurgen Klopp seems to care about.
The first reaction to Liverpool’s surprise draw is, probably, to wonder why Klopp picked that team in the first place. We can all understand the concept of a manager not taking the FA Cup seriously, but it’s more difficult to understand why he’d rest some of his players from a weakened squad only to have to undergo yet another game of football when that skeleton squad fails to beat Football League minnows.
The answer to that probably lies in the realisation of just how seriously Klopp actually takes the FA Cup, or so it would seem. This is the German’s second stab at the competition, his second third round tie, and the second time his reserves have been used: it would be charitable to call such a callow side ‘second string’.
That means that it’s probably unlikely that we’ll see a full strength Liverpool side in the replay, unless Klopp’s objective is truly qualification to the next round. At the moment, it just looks like his objective is to keep his players fresh.
If that’s the case, and few, if any, senior players take to the field in the replay, then Klopp will not have lost anything, he will achieved his goal. Because although Liverpool will have had an extra game crammed into their busy schedule, the players they rely on won’t. They’ll be as fresh as they would have been without the replay.
There is still an issue, an inconvenience, as far as the replay is concerned, though. And that’s the amount of time Klopp will have to be able to prepare his side for the games he clearly cares more about: league games and the EFL Cup semi final, a tie played over two legs.
Instead of working only with his senior players to get them ready for the big games over the next few weeks, Klopp will also have to work with his players on an FA Cup replay – not to mention actually travel to Plymouth, which takes a full day out of his preparations.
That’s an extreme version of events. Perhaps Klopp does care about the FA Cup, so long as he can get to March without playing a full strength side. Perhaps Klopp does want to progress and doesn’t mind the extra game, given that staying in the competition is still preferable to going out. But you wouldn’t know that from looking at his team selection on Sunday.
If Liverpool are to go out of the FA Cup, Klopp will probably feel some sort of disappointment that his ideal scenario has gone out of the window: namely that Liverpool can get through to the latter stages of the FA Cup whilst still resting players and winning the League Cup. But if they do, he’ll take solace in the fact that he’s given his side the best possible chance of closing down Chelsea and winning a domestic trophy. Or at least, it’ll be that way in his mind, anyway.
Jurgen Klopp may look on the FA Cup with disdain, but in reality, it is timing and not prestige that forces his hand. To him, all he wants is a fit squad. But having to take time out of his schedule to deal with a cup replay he doesn’t seem to care about could be detrimental to rest of his whole season.