LAST night was just very enjoyable. It was easy, comfortable, and if you Google ‘stroll in the park’ you’ll be met with a picture of Divock Origi blamming in the third to put a Liverpool side that didn’t need to get out of first gear into the last 16 of a competition that we’ve won a record eight times.
That’s eight more than Everton in case you didn’t know. We sit here in September three ties from Wembley and what would be a first trophy for five years. Five years is just too long for a club of this stature. But five is preferable to 21.
Be embarrassing if this gets bumped in 2033 and we’ve won nothing, but life is a gamble.
There were many good elements of last night. The M6 being kind, Rob Gutmann finding a pub that knocked out cod, chips and mushy peas for £4 (turns out you can eat value), the away end being genuinely good — the League Cup aways like this seem to bring out the best in our support, the robotic weirdos who infiltrate our support in league games are nowhere to be seen — and being back in town for just before midnight, but for me it was the football that was most encouraging.
It’s really important that we don’t get carried away with things after last night — after all in betting terms we were 2-5 to win in ninety minutes (71 per cent implied chance of doing so for those not into betting) and Derby have scored a frankly embarrassing two league goals all season.
But it wasn’t so much the fact that we won easily. It was that we could make changes in key areas, and lose absolutely nothing in style or substance.
Sadio Mane was nowhere to be seen, Daniel Sturridge similar. Liverpool’s attacking threat, while it wasn’t raining shots or chances, was still prevalent. The defence was fine, the midfield was fine, the attack was fine, and the keeper was also fine.
There really isn’t a great deal you can say about Liverpool last night truth be told — it was about as regulation as football gets.
We turned up away from home at a team we’re better than, we scored halfway through the first half, we came out after half-time and finished it off and then had active rest for the last 35 minutes or so. It was basically what you want from the third round of the League Cup. No battle, no humiliation, fitness levels ticking over before the test of Hull on Saturday.
We’re into the hat for the next round. I want Manchester City at home. Why wouldn’t you? To win it, you’re probably going to have to beat them, so why not do it in the midweek between their Champions League double header with Barcelona?
And if they beat us we can crack on with the league and I can save a few hundred quid on not watching us lose on penalties in the final like last year.
I think I’d rather have lost to Bournemouth in Jürgen Klopp’s first home game, to be honest. Losing finals is the worst, and a habit that this club really needs to shift. We’re on three on the bounce now, and from having a quick scan through history, we’ve never managed that before.
These players we have now need something to build on, and give us all something to enjoy. There’s a really interesting discussion to be had with regards to what trophies represent. There’s an element of our support who feel that trophies were devalued by the ownership in 2012, when Kenny Dalglish was removed from his position of manager after Liverpool won the League Cup, lost the FA Cup final to Chelsea, and finished eighth with 52 points.
How can a manager who has delivered a trophy lose his job? The answer was pretty simple really — Liverpool were a dreadful football team that had no direction, fifty points with 18 taken from the last 19 games of the season.
A trophy wasn’t masking this, a trophy won after needing penalties to beat a Championship side shouldn’t be seen as something as a guide for the future of the club. I hope the decision would have been the same had we won the FA Cup — we weren’t in a good place, an FA Cup win would not have meant that Liverpool were transformed and all set to get back to the top of English football. Last season yielded two lost finals — which summer was more positive, 2012 or 2016?
With no Europe this year, we are well positioned to have a real crack at the league and to be able to fully focus on the cups. But if Liverpool finish this season potless, it won’t necessarily mean that this club isn’t well positioned to kick on.
Once a trophy is won, it’s won after all. There’s an old Ronnie Moran story about turning up to pre-season training with the winners’ medals from the previous year, placing them on the treatment table and telling the players that they should take one if they think they deserve it, while also reminding them that they hadn’t won anything yet this season.
It should always be about the next trophy and not the last one. You’ve won one? Great, it’s done now. Focus on winning the next one. Everything the club does going forward should be about the next trophy.
The next two games start a period that really will tell us what we’re all about. Hull at home and Swansea away are games that you would like to think would give us six points, followed by two weeks of international nonsense.
Then Manchester United at home, West Brom at home, Crystal Palace away and Watford at home before the November international break comes along, and brings us two more weeks of misery.
Sandwiched in between West Brom and Palace will be a League Cup game, which gives us five games between October 17 and November 6, which will be as intense a period as Liverpool experience all season. While I’ve said I want Manchester City in this evening’s draw, a home tie with Reading or Preston would be much nicer in terms of advancing to the quarter-finals while still being able to give the likes of Marko Grujic and Ragnar Klavan a run out to keep them fresh.
Having such a strong, consistent squad is very important in situations like this; Mane, Sturridge, Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana, Georginio Wijnaldum and James Milner didn’t feature at all last night and will presumably come back in on Saturday, refreshed and ready to put Hull to the sword.
There was no noticeable drop off in quality of the Liverpool side, either. That’s encouraging. Being able to do that kind of thing is huge in terms of helping you compete on multiple fronts. I pine for the days when Rafa Benitez was able to give Steven Gerrard a day off and play Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano, or when Gerard Houllier could tell Michael Owen to put his feet up for 90 minutes because Robbie Fowler and Emile Heskey were playing instead.
Go back through the last few years and have a think what you would have been watching if the goalkeeper and six outfield players, who had been heavily involved to that point, didn’t get on the pitch. You wouldn’t have been watching something you wanted to watch. I’d have probably cried.
Take the team that lost to Swansea in the League Cup in October 2012 for example…
Pick any season you want in recent years, have a look on Wikipedia at the squads we’ve had in recent times and then look at this one — if you can’t get excited, and think that we might be on to something, then football probably isn’t for you.
Saturday really does feel huge. As huge as a game against Hull in September can be really. Given the Burnley game was the only one we’ve had against any of the league’s lesser lights, it’s been given more credence as a way of focusing on this side’s negatives than it really should.
Over the course of a season a football team isn’t perfect for 38 games. Liverpool will have results like that, every team will. But because it was so early in the season people think it represents more than it probably does, which given what happened against Watford and Newcastle last season is perfectly valid.
In 2013-14 when City beat us to the title, they lost early on at Cardiff and questions were asked about them. They answered them all, sadly. It’s up to Liverpool to provide answers to these same questions over the next few months.
Go out and batter Hull, set down a marker, and show the world that the Reds can do it all.