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Dublin: 12 °C Wednesday 20 February, 2019

Jurgen Klopp wasn't 'disrespecting' the FA Cup - It hasn't truly mattered for years

The Liverpool manager made nine changes for last night’s game at Wolves. Was he wrong to do so?

Klopp has yet to take Liverpool beyond the fourth round of the FA Cup.
Klopp has yet to take Liverpool beyond the fourth round of the FA Cup.
Image: EMPICS Sport

HERE WE GO again – can the lustre of any self-respecting competition endure the presence of Alberto Moreno?

 Jurgen Klopp is the latest to face accusations of “disrespecting” the FA Cup having had the temerity to make nine changes and then lose to Wolves in last night’s third round.

 The Liverpool manager denied diminishing the competition with his team selection, which included full debuts for 18-year-old Rafa Camacho and 17-year-old Curtis Jones. Circumstances then dictated a debut for Ki-Jana Hoever, a defender younger than Shrek.

 “I’m not sure what you all would have said if our centre-half situation (from the start) was Fabinho and Ki-Jana, probably a few smart people would have told me I don’t respect the competition”, Klopp said afterward.

 “I changed a lot because we have to, not because I wanted to”.

 This was Liverpool’s 12th game in 44 days, a run which has included meetings with the two richest clubs in the world, PSG and Manchester City; an intense derby with Everton and an admittedly less intense derby with the shrivelled husk of Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United; a crucial European tie with Napoli; the league visit of Arsenal along with a series of other league games played beneath the white heat of Manchester City’s breath.

 Given that Liverpool have come through that series of games with a four-point lead at the top of the league and a last-16 European tie with Bayern Munich, it can be considered a success.

 Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker played every one of Liverpool’s previous 11 games, while Mo Salah, Andy Robertson, and Roberto Firmino started all but one. Sadio Mane missed one game through injury and played in the other 10. While Liverpool’s squad is deeper than it ever has been, they cannot absorb the loss of their key players as well as Manchester City can.

 Dejan Lovren, who has spent his Liverpool career as a kind of breathing, blundering confirmation bias, naturally went and proved Klopp’s need to rotate by limping out of last night’s game with a hamstring injury. This was Lovren’s seventh-straight game; he has only twice before managed to string more than six games back-to-back.

Britain Soccer FA Cup Dejan Lovren's injury leaves Liverpool facing a defensive crisis against Brighton this weekend. Source: Rui Vieira

Lovren will now likely miss the league game with Brighton this weekend, leaving van Dijk as the only senior centre-back left standing. If one Virgil made his name guiding Dante through hell, his Dutch namesake will have to pull off a similar trick to help Hoever past the challenge of Glenn Murray this weekend, a man literally more than twice his age.

 Given the pace of City’s challenge a draw this weekend can be considered as a defeat, so perhaps the true Magic of the Cup is to make Dejan Lovren feel missed.

 Injuries to key players are an inevitability of competing at such an intense level, so Klopp is right to limit as much damage as he can. The Premier League is much, much more important than the FA Cup for Liverpool, for a number of reasons.

 Winning the league should be Liverpool’s top priority, as at this stage it would be less a triumph than an exorcism. Lessening the number of games in which van Dijk can get injured is a pragmatic response to such wild, romantic longing.

 Secondly, those arguing that Jurgen Klopp needs a trophy at Liverpool are wrong: he needs to come close to winning at least one of two trophies. Rightly or wrongly, English football can attract uber-managers like Klopp as clubs’ income has been so swelled by television revenue.

 This has turned the top of the English game into a kind of global form of television entertainment, with more eyeballs meaning more return on investment. The job, then, is to stay in the spotlight for as long as possible. Hence the narrowing of importance to the Premier League and Champions League.

 The FA Cup, by contrast, is a charming but ultimately unimportant subplot; the managers of the superclubs to have recently won it have all resembled respected but washed-up actors forced to appear on reality shows or flog car insurance. Their bosses agreed, and Louis Van Gaal and Antonio Conte were both sacked for parading such ignominy as their rivals got on with the business of making money in Europe.

Ever since English clubs returned to Europe after the Heysel ban, the Cup has been taking on less importance for those involved in the Champions League. That we are still having this conversation in relation to an elite club is ludicrous: none of Liverpool’s teenage trio were born when Alex Ferguson decided not to bother playing in it, instead switching United’s focus to the Club World Championship.

The indifference has spread lower down, as it is clear that the FA Cup has become just another victim to the Premier League’s voracious, capitalist maw.

 That Leicester rested players for their tie with Newport County, in a bid to be fresher for their Premier League race to nowhere, shows just how many clubs are concerned with protecting their profit above chasing silverware. The Premier League, however, has made them richer than AC Milan, so the Cup will never be able to compete for their top priority.

 Hence why the Cup trades in ‘tradition’ and so on, as it’s the only currency it has left. The bitter irony of this is that the FA have fatally undermined that very tradition. As part of selling an £820m overseas TV contract, third round games kicked off from Friday to Monday night, with just 10 of them slated for the traditional Saturday 3pm kick-off.

 Klopp wasn’t disrespecting the FA Cup – it’s just another tradition to have long since fallen to progress.

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About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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