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Liverpool and the League Cup – why was everyone so worried?

There was much grumbling and rancour a week ago when Liverpool huffed and puffed their way to a goalless draw at Anfield. Jurgen Klopp’s team were always going to be good enough to redeem themselves though.

See? There was no need to worry after all.

Liverpool dealt with Arsenal’s upstarts and bright young things within a sense of consummate authority and superiority.

It was all too much for most of the home supporters, who had long since vacated the Emirates, when the final whistle confirmed that we had booked comfortable passage into our first domestic cup final in six years.

Arsenal boldly threw themselves at us for the first 19 minutes, denying us the scope to find our stride, knocking us off balance to a degree, putting us on the backfoot.

It was an approach that was lifted straight out of the Everton textbook on how to deal with derby day, except with greater substance to the style with which they are intermittently capable of playing compared to the team over at Goodison.

Plan A is to create blizzard footballing conditions, where the opposition feel like they can’t see the outstretched hand in front of their face, or they can’t put one foot in front of the other.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Thursday, January 20, 2022: Liverpool's Ibrahima Konaté sees hid header hit the post during the Football League Cup Semi-Final 2nd Leg match between Arsenal FC and Liverpool FC at the Emirates Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Disorientation is the aim, where advantage is then taken; the fingertips of Caoimhin Kelleher thwarted the dastardly plot of Mikel Arteta. You can take the man out of Everton, but you can’t take Everton out of the man, no matter how long he might have spent massaging the shoulders of Pep Guardiola.

This one was a little bit like that childhood classic, where the older sibling keeps the furious younger brother at arm’s length by virtue of a palm applied to the forehead, the swinging haymakers of the latter not impacting on the abdomen of the former, due to the one having shorter arms than the other.

It was with huge effort that Arsenal admirably took the game to us in the early exchanges – and make no mistake, they can play the round ball very attractively in bursts.

Away from the three teams at the top of the Premier League, they are clearly the most intriguing proposition. Their future could be bright unless they run out of patience with a project that offers hints of greatness without tangible reward.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Thursday, January 20, 2022: Liverpool's Diogo Jota scores the second goal during the Football League Cup Semi-Final 2nd Leg match between Arsenal FC and Liverpool FC at the Emirates Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

None of those hypotheticals of future prosperity at the Emirates mean we don’t continue to have the measure of Arsenal, however. They can throw out as many interesting footballing shapes as they like, we will still mug them off.

Arsenal departed Anfield a week ago with their tails up. They had done half the job.

Seeing the second half of that job out is another matter entirely, though. Bigger and better teams have tried and failed such missions, in bigger and better tournaments than the League Cup.

After the first leg of the semi-final, I mentioned that what had taken us so far this time around had been an innate sense of fun. Mad situations with mix-and-match lineups, where everyone was delighted to be involved, whichever position they occupied upon the sliding scale of the career spectrum.

Older players were loving the responsibility of guiding their inexperienced team-mates. Every match felt like a Scouse christening party.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Thursday, January 20, 2022: Liverpool's Diogo Jota (C) celebrates with team-mates after scoring the second goal goal during the Football League Cup Semi-Final 2nd Leg match between Arsenal FC and Liverpool FC at the Emirates Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

At Anfield, with almost as strong a lineup as possible, it instead seemed like a chore. At the Emirates, it felt like a case of us putting things right. A glorious collective squad apology of sorts. ‘Soz lads, I hope this makes up for last week’.

It more than made up for it.

Diogo Jota’s opener must have felt like an insult to Arsenal senses. The home side had struggled to pick the visitor’s lock for almost 20 minutes, confounded by gravity when the ball hit the Liverpool crossbar, only to see the most Scouse-looking Portuguese amble down the other end of the pitch to slip through the unlocked door of their own defence.

Arteta’s side never really recovered from there, despite occasionally ramping themselves up, and Liverpool were magnificent from the 19th minute onward.

Jota, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Fabinho were immense, Kelleher was beautifully grown-up, Andy Robertson linked marvellously with Curtis Jones, and the supporting cast – from the greatest central defender in the world to the impetuosity of precociousness of Kaide Gordon-flavoured youth – played their part.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Thursday, January 20, 2022: Liverpool's Diogo Jota (C) celebrates with team-mates after scoring the second goal goal during the Football League Cup Semi-Final 2nd Leg match between Arsenal FC and Liverpool FC at the Emirates Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Even within his half-hour cameo, Takumi Minamino, at last, reassuringly looked like an organic Liverpool player. He was massively impressive when dropping deep to pick up the ball, in an almost Coutinho-esque manner.

Those goals of Jota’s, that tackle by Fabinho, those assists from Trent, that away section.

The perfect night, in a much-maligned competition, which has arguably rejuvenated our season, there was even Parteygate, as Arsenal ended the evening with 10 men, while Ben White did his best Steve Chettle impersonation when trying to have Jota ‘on toast’.

Yes, there are bigger fish to fry than the League Cup, and Chelsea will make the final as difficult as possible, but this run to Wembley has been a wondrous ride. Now Liverpool just need to put the cherry on the cake by lifting the three-handled pot.

Up the Reds.

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