Liverpool face fixture congestion

Jan 10, 2017
Liverpool fielded a weakened side against Plymouth in the FA Cup third round last week.
Liverpool fielded a weakened side against Plymouth in the FA Cup third round last week.

Cups matter to Jurgen Klopp.

The Liverpool manager wants desperately to bring a trophy to Anfield.

He was criticised for fielding a weakened team against Plymouth Argyle in the FA Cup third round on Sunday, allowing the League Two side to draw 0-0 and force a replay in front of the Kop.

An extra game is one of the last things Klopp needs in the crowded January fixture list. Yet the decision to play a team largely comprised of youngsters at the beginning of a crucial eight days for Liverpool was the right call.

The squad at Anfield is not strong enough to campaign on three fronts and the next two matches could define the season.

First up are Southampton in the first leg of the League Cup semifinal.

Klopp was always going to prioritize a competition where the team are two games from Wembley.

After that Liverpool travel to Manchester United in the Premier League.

The main ambition at the start of the season was to finish in the top four and claim a Champions League place.

As it is, Klopp’s team are still in the title race. Something had to give – the FA Cup

One of the things that Liverpool’s owners, Fenway Sports Group, found so attractive about Klopp was his ambition.

He arrived on Merseyside 15 months ago expressing a belief that he could win all four competitions in which Liverpool were involved.

During that first season he reached two finals.

The intensity of knockout ties seems to suit the excitable, emotional aspect of Klopp’s personality.

He has made a huge and mostly favourable impact during his time in England, but the two finals, against Manchester City in the League Cup and Sevilla in the Europa League, were disappointing.

At Wembley last February Liverpool lost on penalties to City after a disjointed and tactically flawed display.

It was worse in Basel against Sevilla.

Klopp’s team were torn apart in the second period after taking a first-half lead.

The manager was reduced to trying to rouse the crowd as the Spanish side cruised to a 3-1 victory.

Those defeats took Klopp’s losing streak in finals to five consecutive games.

He has only won one once, the German Cup in 2012, in six attempts where a trophy was at stake.

The League Cup offers an early chance of redemption, but Southampton are no pushovers.

While Claude Puel’s team have been inconsistent this season, they are capable of making life difficult for Liverpool.

Puel signalled his intent by making eight changes for the 2-2 draw against Norwich City in the FA Cup on Saturday.

Like Klopp, the Southampton manager had one eye on the quickest route to Wembley.

The South Coast side knocked out Arsenal in the League Cup quarterfinal and although the Merseysiders will be favourites over two leg, Klopp will need his strongest side to get a result in the first leg at St Mary’s.

The trip to Old Trafford is even more important.

Liverpool not only need the points to turn up the pressure on Chelsea at the top of the Premier League but victory over their most hated rivals would land a body blow to United’s hopes of getting back into the Champions League.

There is so much at stake over the coming week that it made perfect sense to send out the kids against Argyle.

Klopp needs two things from this season to maintain the upbeat mood and sense of progression: Take Liverpool back into the Champions League and bring a trophy to Anfield for the first time in five years.

To do that, he will have to juggle his resources.

The FA Cup is important for Liverpool. Just not this week. Klopp has other things on his mind.

Arsenal continue to show their mettle

Arsenal have spent the FA Cup break in the uncomfortable and unusual position of sitting in fifth place in the Premier League.

Even some fans at the Emirates are dismissing their chance of winning the title.

Yet once again the Gunners scored a very late goal, this time against Preston North End to win their cup tie.

Olivier Giroud’s goal was the seventh time this season Arsenal have scored a goal after 85 minutes to win a game or salvage a draw.

Arsene Wenger’s team are tougher than they appear and have an easy set of fixtures in January.

Marco Silva unfairly criticised at Hull

It is hard to see Hull City getting anything at Old Trafford in the first leg of their League Cup semifinal against Manchester United.

This is a club that is short of manpower, in the throes of chaos in the boardroom and seemingly destined for relegation.

The appointment of Marco Silva to replace Mike Phelan has caused a storm of criticism in England, much of it misplaced.

Some have questioned the 39-year-old’s credentials, which is ludicrous.

Anyone who has managed Sporting Lisbon and Olympiakos is probably slumming it with Hull.

The only doubts about the appointment should be the six-month contract given to the Portuguese.

That suggests neither side has much faith Silva can perform a miracle and salvage Hull’s season.

Eddie Howe has a lot to learn

Bournemouth have little fear of relegation.

Their season will fade out comfortably with only a position or two in the table at stake.

They will probably finish in the top 10 of the Premier League.

So why did Eddie Howe play a weakened team away to Millwall in the FA Cup?

Bournemouth got what they deserved, a 3-0 beating.

But wouldn’t the players and fans have loved a cup run?

It would have injected some excitement into a campaign that will peter out.

It’s understandable when managers battling for titles, top-four places and other cups rest players, but not when the likes of Howe do it.

The 39-year-old seems to be everyone’s favourite up-and-coming English manager, but his decision before the Millwall game suggests he’s got a lot to learn.