IT’S a big game tonight. How big? Well that depends on who you ask and what their perspective is.
It’s a big game for the manager, Jürgen Klopp, who yesterday called going to Wembley “the best thing you can do in football.”
It’s a big game for both managers. In his own pre-match press conference Stoke City boss Mark Hughes said: “It is important to us because if we can get to a final and win a trophy then that gives you a winning mentality — you’ve experienced that as a group and that will help you to continue to progress.”
It could have easily been Jurgen Klopp talking.
He will know, even in a “free” season for him, winning a trophy early can be a marker. A feeling you can create around the football club.
Klopp spoke about Liverpool losing two semi-finals last season, to Chelsea in the League Cup and Aston Villa in The FA Cup, and how we can’t be affected by it this time out.
Winning The League Cup, the first trophy it is possible for him to win, sends out a message to those within the club and to those outside of it. “If you wanna win a cup, then you better hurry up”. Now I’m here, we win things.
It’s big for the players, too.
It’s easy to forget when we talk about how a League Cup compares with out past glories that the current crop of players didn’t win any of these things.
Martin Skrtel and Lucas Leiva have played in championship challenges, but only have one League Cup winners’ medal each to show for their Liverpool careers.
Adam Lallana, the hero at Norwich, has had a decent football career, with England caps and PFA Player of the Year shortlists, but so far he only has one Johnstone’s Paint Trophy medal to show the grandkids.
These players will be looking at the honours boards at Anfield and want to point to their own.
They will know about the history of the club and want to be a part of it, even if at first it is in a small way.
They will want their own stories, too.
Nathaniel Clyne did an interview with the club today saying the reason he joined Liverpool was to win trophies. The longer a club goes without winning one, the more this is a less of a factor for potential future signings.
It’s a massive game for Stoke. You fancy the first game snuck up on them somewhat, straight after a busy festive period.
In the first leg, their players looked tired and the crowd were surprisingly flat. It’s part of the problem of a two-legged tie, perhaps. This week feels like the serious one, the business end. Their fans will be noisy tonight and they believe they can turn it around. Hughes rested Marko Arnautovic and Bojan Krkic at the weekend, keeping them fresh and focused, at least in theory, as Stoke crashed 3-0 at Leicester City.
– Listen: Stoke fan Elliot Hackney from The Bear Pit TV on tonight’s game, taken from TAW subscriber show, The Coach Home.
It’s strange to think that Stoke City, a team that has spent much of its history in the top division and had Stanley Matthews and Gordon Banks for fair chunks of their peak, has only won one trophy — this very one in 1972.
You forget that for many clubs winning any trophy is a monumental feat. It hasn’t been forgotten amongst The Potters, keen to summon The Spirit of ’72. They would give anything to get to Wembley.
— The Bear Pit TV (@TheBearPitTV) January 25, 2016
It could also be a big game in Liverpool’s season.
Was Liverpool’s late winner against Norwich a get-of-jail-free card against a poor side, or a goal that turns a stuttering season into a winning one?
The next game decides, but we haven’t been very good since Klopp arrives at turning big moments into winning runs.
A win at Stamford Bridge was followed up a week later by a defeat at home to Crystal Palace.
A 6-1 win at Southampton in the League Cup seemed like everything had clicked. Four days later we were losing to Newcastle.
A last-minute goal and infamous Kop celebration against West Brom was meant to boost belief. Yet none was evident at Watford when Liverpool rolled over 3-0.
This time, Norwich needs following up. If not, you sense we’ll remain inconsistent all year.
So what about our own supporters?
It feels big, but it could be bigger. Maybe too many in the ground have seen it all. Maybe a few find it hard to fully get behind a side that looks keen to show some quality and then lets you down.
I’d love it if we went through tonight. I’d love it if we followed it up on Saturday. Turn Wembley into Anfield South again. Become the winning side that Mark Hughes describes and Jürgen Klopp craves.
Klopp says he’s looking forward to a “special atmosphere” tonight. Let’s give everything we have, and hope the players do the same.