Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp stated that he won’t be pitch-side for his team’s FA Cup replay against Shrewsbury Town at Anfield. The runaway Premier League leaders were two goals to the good at Montgomery Waters Meadow, despite the boss fielding a youthful XI. However, a fightback from the Shrews earned them a massive draw which will see them travel to Merseyside in a week's time.
Klopp had no choice but to sacrifice the League Cup when Liverpool’s first team traveled to Qatar for the annual Club World Cup championships in December. An extremely young crop of players, managed by Neil Critchley, was sent out against Aston Villa and were predictably thumped 5-0, whilst the senior squad became ‘Champions of the World’ after their victory against Brazilian outfit Flamengo.
This time around, however, Klopp raised eyebrows after his surprising announcement at the end of the game on Sunday. Liverpool are mathematically only 27 points away from lifting their first Premier League trophy in 30 years. Given their relentless form, coupled with Manchester City’s struggles, they could achieve that feat even quicker. The Reds also have a massive Round of 16 clash against Atletico Madrid in their quest to retain the Champions League.
Many would say that Klopp is simply prioritising the Premier League and Champions League, due to their obvious importance. But sacrificing the FA Cup, even when you arguably have one of the best teams in Europe currently, is arguably bit odd. The return fixture against Shrewsbury will probably not even need the likes of Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mane. Hence, deploying a re-shuffled side is completely understandable given Liverpool’s fixture congestion.
However, withdrawing your senior players from the tie and then also not managing the youth team altogether is just plain absurdity. The former Borussia Dortmund manager gave an explanation post-match, saying, “The Premier League asked us to respect the winter break. That’s what we do. If the FA doesn’t respect that, then we cannot change it. We will not be there.”
The winter break has been one of the newest structural changes in English football, with teams now getting a much-needed, two-week respite in February. However, the FA Cup replays had to be scheduled during the break due to the unavailability of dates. The footballing organisation refuted Klopp’s claims with a statement:
“The FA went to great lengths to create an annual mid-season player break, working closely with the Premier League and its clubs,” it said.
“To accommodate the annual mid-season player break, the FA rescheduled the fifth round to midweek and removed fifth-round replays from the calendar. This allowed the Premier League room in its calendar to have a split round of fixtures over two weekends. Prior to the start of the 2019-20 season, all clubs accepted that FA Cup fourth-round replays, if required, would have to take place during the first week of the mid-season player break.”
The FA Cup is the most revered and respected cup competition in world football due to its rich history and heritage. And perhaps the biggest triumph in English football is to lift a treble consisting of the Premier League, the Champions League and the FA Cup, one that only Manchester United has managed to achieve.
Jurgen Klopp is not only disrespecting the competition, but also disrespecting his opponents by not being present in the return fixture. Shrews fans will have a bittersweet reaction to this ongoing debate, as they were first looking forward to compete against arguably one of the best Premier League sides in recent history, but now stand a firm chance to qualify into the next round which will benefit them both morally and financially. Nevertheless, the tie now has a hollow feel to it due to the lack of interest and commitment shown by Klopp and Liverpool.
Klopp has repeatedly made public pleas to scrap the League Cup entirely, and ditch the FA Cup replays, both of which are significantly important to lower-division teams. According to him, the jam-packed schedule of players result in them suffering long-term injuries and fatigue during the latter, and more vital part of the season. However, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, despite making similar comments, has always respected the English cup competitions by fielding strong sides in arguably 'easy' games. Klopp’s denial to manage the side in the fixture is, therefore, problematic.
Youth prospects like Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliot, who are destined to be future assets for the club, would love to have the Champions League-winning manager by their side for the tie in order to boost their confidence levels. Even senior players and England internationals like Jordan Henderson and Joe Gomez will be craving to taste FA Cup success.
As things stand, however, we will see Neil Critchley lead the Liverpool U23s against Shrewsbury on for the replay next week, the winner of which will visit Chelsea in the sixth round of the FA Cup.