WIPE away all your tears…
Liverpool haven’t won a trophy since 2012. Getting on for six years.
We murder The Blues for their aversion to winning silverware. We even join the sneering at Arsenal for their perennial fourth-placed finishes. But Arsenal win cups. Liverpool don’t. Liverpool Football Club has stopped winning things.
I don’t know about you but I measure out my life in Liverpool trophies. They are the punctuation within the decades, the anchors that moor all memories. What were you doing doing at the beginning of the 21st century? Watching Liverpool win cups, mate. Three of them in 2001. Another in 2003 and then more in 2005 and 2006.
Kenny nearly bagged two in 2012, but had to make do with the one (the last one). Jürgen nearly won a cup double in 2016. There have also been the lost semi finals of 2015 (twice) and 2017. Liverpool FC should have won more pots in the last decade than 2012’s solitary League Cup. But they haven’t and it’s becoming a problem.
Of course Liverpool exist to win league titles and European Cups. But there’s a few others who have come to judge their relevance in this way too. And some of them have much more money than The Reds do. Of course, no one else does European Cup wins like Liverpool and when (not if) they next become champions of England the tremor will be felt around the world. But these are projects, holy grails, they’re unlikely to happen this season (although you never fucking know, eh kids?).
At Leicester City on Tuesday night a hotchpotch of a Liverpool team will attempt to overcome a (to some degree) diluted home side. It is not a journey of a thousand miles from Leicester to Wembley and the chance to win the first Liverpool trophy in six years, but it must begin with this single step. The draw has not been kind, because, let’s face it, The King Power Stadium is a bastard of a place for Liverpool to visit. The Reds haven’t won there since four seasons back.
As football fate has decreed, Liverpool get two cracks at Leicester at their manor this week. Most would probably vote for the taking of three points in Saturday’s league fixture ahead of progression in the League Cup. It is fashionable to write the League Cup off. As it is, in turn, the FA Cup and the Europa League. All these cups are routinely written off in pre season as distractions fit only for giving practise to youth and reserve team players.
But then sometimes, around spring time, the football club finds itself with a diary entry for a cup final or semi final at Wembley. Sometimes focus turns to early booking of hotels in European capitals. These are the very best of times. These are the moments in which seasons come to life. These are the times when memories are made.
I want Liverpool to knock fucking Leicester out of the League Cup, and to then draw Burton Albion at Anfield in the round of 16. I want The Reds to do Burton 1-0 with an anxiety-relieving 86th-minute winner from Ovie Ejaria. Then I want someone like Brighton in the quarters (at home again) and I want them dispatched comfortably to set up a two-legged semi final against Newcastle. And when that draw is revealed I’ll rub my hands and thighs gleefully because I/you/we will know that Liverpool can beat the Geordies over two games. We will know that we’re just a heartbeat away from another Wembley date. Put it in the diary. Check out hotel prices. Look at the other half of the draw. Could be Tottenham Hotspur. Could be Manchester United. Could be a Liverpool trophy. Now that’s a thing.
I think and I hope that Klopp and I are not so very different. His brief from on high will be simple — get Liverpool in the Champions League again, Jürgen. Get to the knockout round of it too. And that’ll do. Don’t worry about anything else. In fact, more than don’t sweat, don’t you dare let those tin pots compromise the QUEST for fourth place or being knocked out in last 16 in Europe in any way shape or form.
Klopp is sanguine enough to be able to take the defeat in the League Cup, that the compromise of a team he will pick, makes more probable. He will of course take a risk in selection for this competition that he won’t for Saturday’s league game. But how much of a risk?
The strengthening of the squad this summer means that the Liverpool manager need lose little sleep over his first “weakened” lineup of the campaign. Some very good footballers need minutes and games. James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Dominic Solanke, Andy Robertson and Daniel Sturridge all saw themselves starting over 25 games for Liverpool this season. Privately they will all have backed themselves for quite a few more than that. Three of them made their first starts in eight games against Burnley at the weekend. They are all but certain to do so again.
Where it gets interesting in playing virtual Klopp is in trying to read the manager’s intentions for the rest of the selection. Dejan Lovren, Jordan Henderson, Albie Moreno, Joe Gomez and Gini Wijnaldum were rested at the weekend. Phil Coutinho started against Burnley but needs games badly. The manager will want at least four out of these six to feature in all of the three away matches that follow on swiftly after Tuesday’s cup tie, so what to do?
I think the clever money is on Lovren and Gomez forming a new centre-back pairing that Klopp will secretly hopes to show itself as something of a revelation. Sturridge and Solanke both look certain starters because they are both good, need games, and are highly unlikely to start any league or European fixtures in the next fortnight. This fairly obvious choice should convince the manager that a 4-4-2 diamond formation is the best fit for the 11 he would prefer to select. Milner and Chamberlain are likely to be joined by super kid Ben Woodburn in the forward most three of the four midfield slots. The decision then will be between inexperienced Marko Grujic and first team regular Wijnaldum for the number six role. It is a hard one to call.
Me? I’d go that bit stronger. If in doubt pick the best man for the job, Jürgen. Leicester are no mugs but they’ll have an eye to Saturday too and may prove more distracted and vulnerable than many might think. Let’s not piss about here, Reds. Let’s beat these, put a bit of much-needed confidence back in the tank and get this team motoring towards Wembley. There’s a Liverpool trophy to be added, here.
Predicted 11: Ward; Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Lovren, Robertson; Grujic, Milner, Chamberlain, Woodburn; Sturridge, Solanke.
Kick off: 7.45pm on Sky Sports
Odds: Leicester 9-4, Draw 27-10, Liverpool 11-8