One club, two games, two teams in two different continents. The League Cup and Club World Cup offered polarising fortunes, but both provoked opinion and conjecture.
You can’t be in two places at once, you just can’t.
I must have said that to my kids a million times over, when they become the recipient of two vaguely enticing entertainment-based offers, and they must choose which one to opt for.
Tuesday and Wednesday gave us the footballing equivalent of that very concept.
Mustiness and Dried Wee
A trip to Villa Park, a comforting and familiar place from your own childhood, for a game in a competition that is badly frayed around the edges, where there is stuffing bulging out of the seats and the overriding aroma is a combination of cooking oil, breaded food, mustiness and dried wee. The League Cup will be the first to go come the next football revolution.
Wednesday night at Villa Park was quite enjoyable in many respects. I went along and backed the mini-reds, many of whom looked like they should be thinking of the paper rounds they needed to be up for the next morning.
Up so late, on a school night.
Accepting a lift off someone I only met a few weeks earlier – never accept lifts from strangers, kids! – I found myself the gatecrasher of a father and son passage of rights, as father was taking son to his first away game.
A 5-0 loss, on a cold December night when the sweeping majority of the collective total number of career first-team games for the players on duty, had been garnered in the colours of Doncaster Rovers, rather than Liverpool.
What a first away trip to have on your CV.
A wonderfully defiant away support and some great movement of the ball, the kids simply lacked a cutting edge in front of goal and were in danger of conceding every time the home team ventured forward.
The Joke is on Them
It was a peculiar, yet worthwhile night. Harvey Elliott could play Premier League football right now, without a doubt. He should have captained the team.
Personally, I don’t think Liverpool will be taking part in the League Cup too many times more.
I can foresee a coming time when three-quarters of the steadily ailing Championship are brought under the umbrella of the Premier League, to create a two-tier entity.
When that day comes, the League Cup will drift off to be a tournament that only Football League teams partake in, as is the case of the EFL Trophy now, with regards to only League One and League Two clubs contesting it, along with a smattering of under-21 sides ‘gifted’ from a variety of Premier League and Championship clubs.
The League Cup has been good to Liverpool FC, but this quarter-final has been a joke too far.
Yet, ultimately the joke might end up being on our closest Premier League rivals. Leicester City and Manchester City will now face January two-legged, derby-game, semi-finals.
A Leicester City vs. Manchester City final, towards the end of February would be another boost to Liverpool’s title-chasing aspirations. They even play each other on Saturday in the league, at the exact same time that Liverpool will be facing Flamengo in Doha.
While Liverpool cruise along relentlessly, it might just be that everyone else trips over one another in their haste to keep up. This is a bit how Leicester won the league a short few years ago.
You can now throw into the mix the likelihood that Pep Guardiola will need to absorb the loss of Mikel Arteta to Arsenal.
It took Jurgen Klopp a period of adjustment to get over the absence of Željko Buvac. Guardiola will face the same disorientation if Arteta does depart for Arsenal.
While fate is only there to be tempted, it does seem that all the stars are aligning in favour of Liverpool and Klopp, in the most compelling way imaginable. This isn’t to suggest we are where we are due to luck, however. It has taken a lot of hard work and the birth of a vision that everyone believes in to create this opportunity we have before us.
Less than 20 hours after one version of Liverpool left the pitch at Villa Park in morally sound defeat, a rejigged ‘big’ version took to the pitch, in Doha, to face an enthusiastic Monterrey.
This was the other invite. The World Club Cup, a theoretically fine idea that throws out too many practical problems, inclusive of the £11 beer.
This was the new and shiny playcentre, with a go-kart track, climbing wall, laser tag and an array of confectionery and soft drinks they had to import from America. It constantly smells clean and there is definitely no hint of mustiness and dried wee.
It was like playing against a Mexican version of Red Bull Salzburg. A sort of Red Bull Monterrey. Fast, skilful, fearless and leaving you with the feeling that you’d quite enjoy watching them play against a different team than your own.
There will have been a Monterrey player that the Liverpool squad will have been begging Klopp to sign, only for the greatest living German to throw his head back in laughter, because a deal has already been done, with the £8.27 release clause having been activated a week or so ago.
Rogelio Funes Mori was dangerous on the pitch, Antonio Mohamed was a nuisance on the touchline. Klopp took to pantomime mockery of his opposite number and a humourless referee booked both managers.
For Liverpool, Jordan Henderson as a centre back was more convincing than Joe Gomez, Naby Keïta was magnificent again, Alisson Becker was in a commanding mood and Bobby Firmino found the nearest phone booth, where he threw on his superhero outfit, in order to save the day in stoppage time. It was holiday football.
Flamengo it is then, on Saturday
I’m old enough to remember the 1981 encounter, in Tokyo. Bob Paisley was reluctant to be there, we were under-prepared and largely out of form, while the League Cup had got in the way a few days earlier.
Flamengo had Zico and he was in his prime. They had been in Japan for a week, the Brazilian side deservedly won, and they class it as their greatest moment, while we were so uninterested in the trophy that Paisley had refused to take part in 1977 and 78.
At the end of the season, we won the league title, which was much more important.
Qatar and the League Cup have provoked a lot of opinion and conjecture. It would be ‘nice’ to win on Saturday, but the first question the players ask at the end of the game, win or lose, is likely to be what score the Leicester vs. Man City game ended.