LIVERPOOL AND THE NUMBERS GAME: THE LEAGUE v CUPS DILEMMA - The Anfield Wrap

Gibbons Ident (1)ROBBO’s article for Mirror Football caused quite the stir yesterday. Apparently suggesting that a football team should sacrifice the battle for sixth place in a bid to win a cup is quite controversial. Someone even tweeted him telling him to hang himself. Have a word with yourselves, lads. It’s someone writing about footie.

On the balance I’m much closer to Gareth than I am to Rob Gutmann’s view that league position is everything.

I used to be able to reel off Liverpool’s honours list as a boy (I’ve probably slipped on this now, but I reckon I could nail 16 of the 18 league wins by year). This was because I used to stare at the roll call of successful years in football annuals as a child, imagining all the sides that had won the trophies, dreaming what it must have been like to be part of those impossibly large crowds.

I bet kids still do the same now.

As we get older we get less romantic, of course. We obsess over progression, we want all the numbers to go up.

League form is the easiest thing to monitor — the constant that we can measure each season by.

This week has seen statistics pointing to a 1.46 points average for Jürgen Klopp this season, compared with 1.50 for the sacked Brendan Rodgers. Little consideration is given to circumstances, or indeed cup runs, as they are tricky to quantify. What we see is not enough improvement.

For Rodgers, stating fifth was “par” was seen as criminal by fans who never thought it was acceptable for Liverpool to finish so low. That he then missed this target was seen as a sackable offence, despite there being no difference between finishing fifth and sixth in practical terms, just our obsession over ranking.

Football - Football League Cup - Final - Liverpool FC v Manchester United FCWe want Liverpool as high as possible, even if there is no obvious gain. I get that, to an extent.

Klopp is in something of a honeymoon period at the moment, no doubt helped by a League Cup final on the horizon, but people are already getting twitchy about final league positions.

Liverpool’s lowest Premier League finish is eighth, one place below where the Reds reside currently. If Liverpool equalled, or indeed dipped below that spot you can guarantee fans will be asking questions about the manager’s ability to adapt to English football, regardless of how well we do in other competitors.

The last league manager to finish in eighth was Kenny Dalglish.

The King is the most-loved figure in this club’s history. He won the League Cup that season and was sacked.

If you asked Dalglish now if he had any regrets, I wonder if it would be that he rested players in league games in favour of an ultimately doomed FA Cup campaign that he mistakenly thought those running the football club cared about

Ian Ayre later commented that Kenny would have been removed from the manager’s office even if Liverpool had put a first FA Cup in the Anfield trophy room since 2006.

These are the problems a manager of Liverpool Football Club faces.

Football - Liverpool appoint legend Kenny Dalglish as managerWe cover the walls of Melwood with Bill Shankly quotes about Liverpool Football Club existing “to win trophies” and then sack managers who deliver them without Champions League football.

Klopp might think he has a season to get to know his players and any trophy is a bonus, but fans and owners will get very twitchy if league results don’t improve. The owners will get very twitchy if league attendances start to drop as there is nothing to play for. Especially when they are trying to sell corporate tickets for a great big new stand.

This is what did for Dalglish and for the current England manager before him. Nothing makes investment groups more nervous than income going down.

FSG looked like they were going to stick with Roy Hodgson for the season, at least until they got their feet under the table and knew a bit more about the game. Then 35,000 people turned up to his last league home game against Bolton Wanderers and he was quickly out the door.

It was similar for Kenny. The writing was on the wall as soon as home attendance dwindled away with the league campaign. Even the arrival of Chelsea for the last home game of the season could only attract barely 40,000 people in, and the manager was gone soon after.

As a football fan who doesn’t think we will finish top four, I would prefer if Klopp focused the rest of the season on the cups. But the reality is he should probably ignore that advice.

In the crazy world of what fans value, and how owners judge success, he would be wise to get as many points as possible in the league to get the highest finish possible and ensure the stadium keeps selling out, regardless of how that impacts the FA Cup and Europe.

It doesn’t make much sense to me. But I don’t make the rules.