There is focus, and then there’s FOCUS.
It isn’t a satisfactory situation, yet nor is it entirely the fault of the Liverpool manager.
Klopp has stated that he will not be leading Liverpool for the fourth round replay against Shrewsbury Town. A game rendered necessary by Sunday’s draw at the New Meadow.
Instead, Neil Critchley will again lead a team of youngsters into action just as he did in the League Cup in December, while Klopp and the first team were in Qatar taking part in and ultimately winning the Club World Cup.
I can fully see the logic behind Klopp’s decision to opt-out of a cold Tuesday night at Anfield against Shrewsbury, given that the Premier League has finally shifted itself into the last century with regards to the concept of a winter break.
Just as with the implementation of VAR, however, the Premier League and the FA have made heavy weather of what could have been a far easier situation.
Different entities as such, but effectively run from individual offices under the same roof, running up the same collective heating bills; the left hand that is the Premier League has come up with a bright idea, while the right hand that is the FA continues drawing its own picture.
Broken crayons all over the show.
While it goes against the historical grain of English football, I’m fine with the concept of a winter break.
Klopp comes from a footballing culture that adheres to a sprawling winter break, one which can sometimes stretch to over a month’s separation of Bundesliga games.
During Klopp’s last season in charge of Borussia Dortmund, their 17th and 18th Bundesliga games were punctuated by a five-week gap.
Now, while I see this as excessive, and would never suggest English football should go to such an extreme, Spain and Italy generally get their winter breaks just right.
Usually a two-week gap between games which takes them from a short few days before Christmas to the first weekend beyond new year.
Timing is also everything. As it seems so is commercialism.
Split weekends in February will see 40 percent of the league play one weekend, with the other 60 percent playing the following weekend.
A break is being allotted, but the bandwagon of “The World’s Greatest League” mustn’t be allowed to stop. Also, February isn’t exactly ‘mid-season’. It is merely convenient.
This brings us back to the FA Cup. A fourth round replay being scheduled during a projected winter break is as lacking in common sense as having to play a League Cup quarter-final less than 24 hours prior to a Club World Cup semi-final.
He has been clumsy in his response to the situation, but I get where Klopp is coming from by downing domestic cup tools for the second time in one season.
There are ways and means of dealing with this situation, however. Rather than go for the immediate post-match knee-jerk reaction, take a deep breath and bide your time.
Allow the fifth round draw to happen, then shine a light on the lunacy of the situation. There was no need for Klopp to paint himself as the inflexible element.
Just point at the source of the bureaucracy and laugh, at least externally. Then plot a way forward that allows himself and the front-line players to take their break.
From a Liverpool perspective, there are players only just returning to fitness that would benefit from a second run out against Shrewsbury; there are squad members who will watch our forthcoming Premier League games from the bench, or even from the Main Stand, who would benefit from a second game against Shrewsbury.
With two Premier League games to navigate this week before the winter break kicks in Klopp is risking a negative light settling on his team, while he is breaking his own commandment of “one game at a time” by getting into a row about a fixture that is over a week away.
On Wednesday we travel to West Ham for our game in hand. Instead of this, today’s focus will be on the FA Cup. I’ll be watching out for any adverse reactions to Liverpool’s performance in east London.
In the wider picture what Klopp’s stance does is it shades the need for change. What he does, he does for the right reasons, but all many people will see is ‘Klopp vs. the FA Cup‘ or ‘Klopp vs. Tradition’.
Pep Guardiola has recently suggested the League Cup needs scrapping, or at least words to a similar effect.
I agree with him.
The French League Cup is to be indefinitely suspended after this season. The English version, while a part of the football calendar for 60 years, needs restructuring. It really should be a competition that is contested only by EFL clubs.
Klopp isn’t anti-domestic cups by the way. He took Dortmund to three DFB-Pokal finals in Germany – winning one, losing two – but that is Germany’s one and only domestic cup and it stretches throughout the campaign.
A Big If
If the FA Cup did likewise, the fixture list would benefit. The first two rounds played out in August, while the teams of the top two divisions start out in September.
Stretch the competition out, with each stage from the third round being played every six or seven weeks rather than every three weeks.
Football watchers, and maybe even managers, might start to look forward to the FA Cup in these circumstances.
Disconcertingly, a gamble is potentially being made on Liverpool’s current aura of focus and relentlessness all because of a row about the FA Cup.
The position Klopp has assumed on this topic is a product of its environment. Change is needed, yet he won’t provoke it with petulance and a potentially self-harming decision.