When Jurgen Klopp was asked what the difference is between the fans in Germany and England, he pointed to a bigger emphasis on intensity and importance on your team winning or not. Asked why exactly that was, Klopp ventured with a trademark booming laugh that the English “bet more…”. As a punchline, it was a damn sight funnier than Thomas Muller’s Robert Lewandgoalski joke.
Behind the laugh, there’s a more serious point to be made. Liverpool exited the Carabao Cup this week against their new bogey team Arsenal, and, as has been their want, will concentrate on the big two trophies that really make the red blood course through the veins.
Liverpool have lost just four league games in the past two campaigns. The Holy Grail of the Premier League has finally been worth the agonising wait. The collateral damage of early exits in “other” competitions is an assumption that we will come back to. The Bread and Butter that Bill Shankly had talked about is now back on the menu as a staple diet.
Titles will now be expected if the team can keep up their relentless work ethic tied to a new winning mentality and bigger, better squad. The Champions League is the other five-star competition that the Reds thirst after. After all, the rich heritage of Liverpool comes from their Continental adventures as well as their English perch regained.
It’s what the fans want too, isn’t it? Number six is repeated as if it is part of the furniture of Anfield. A defence of the title would be a magnificent follow up on its own. The English Cups are almost an afterthought. Aren’t they? Not quite.
Manchester City are the monster munchers of the domestic trophies. Liverpool barely take a bite out of them. The rationale is that they do not matter to Jurgen and his men. That is an assertion that riles the Anfield outfit’s manager.
“It is not a case of treating certain competitions as priorities over others. It’s about managing the situation, the circumstances and the squad”, said Klopp.
The facts actually back up Klopp more often than not. In his first FA Cup game against Exeter, he not only flirted with the tea ladies live on the BBC, but fielded an XI with just three players boasting more than four first-team appearances between them. A whole raft of injuries had hit his first-team squad. When the Reds were finally knocked out in the fourth-round replay at West Ham with only a clutch of regulars playing, it was already their 40th game of that season.
When Liverpool sent out the kids this year in the FA Cup fourth round replay against Shrewsbury at Anfield, there was rather less sympathy. In the middle of an incredible run of unbeatable league form, an immovable quarter-final EFL tie against Villa had already been sacrificed 5-0 with the kids because of the focus on winning a first World Club Cup. As soon as the latter was pocketed, Liverpool were on the road again with a Christmas fixture list.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) December 21, 2019
Klopp had decided that he was taking the two week Premier League winter break with the first team players, irrespective of FA Cup replays being squeezed into that gap: “If people call me lazy, disrespectful to cup competitions, it is just all not true but that is not important because everyone has a right to an opinion,” he added.
“Could I be here for the game? Of course, I could but that would be a complete misunderstanding of management and coaching.”
There was a time, say in 2001 when there was still a misty-eyed, romanticised approach to the knockout Wembley way (or Cardiff as it was back then). Liverpool were still not even in the slipstream of United and Arsenal for the Premier League trophy, despite Gerard Houllier’s best efforts.
During a 63-match marathon that season, Liverpool managed to win a treble of sorts – The FA and Worthington Cups and the UEFA Cup, as well as securing a Champions League place on the last day of the season. There was a bus parade and everything. No shame. No embarrassment for a so-called plastic treble.
Since those heady days, the Anfield side have claimed only three further domestic trophies in the subsequent two decades. They have a fantastic heritage in the League Cup but that has been arrested ever since they got to the final in Klopp’s first few months as manager only to lose to Manchester City on penalties in 2016.
Times have shifted. There is a culture out there of no context. Mikel Arteta has won two domestic trophies in a matter of months. That’s two more than Klopp has won in almost five years. Yet it does not downgrade the German’s huge achievements. Nor does it give a fair picture of the different scenarios he has had to juggle to ensure success home or abroad.
At the beginning of this year, he again plunged the kids into action against Everton in the FA Cup with only 12 first-team players available plus the newly acquired Takumi Minamino. Again, “the kids” made the most of it and beat a strong Everton side through a certain Curtis Jones. Something was gained. No Reds side under Klopp just falls over for their opponent.
As James Milner hinted on Thursday night, a Cup exit was disappointing, but the business as usual returns at Villa Park. This time, there will be no kids in sight. It doesn’t mean Liverpool don’t care though about their proud past.