It has been claimed by a large number of rival fans that Liverpool fabricated their COVID-19 outbreak to delay the League Cup semi-final. But that misses the point.
The week just gone was wracked with uncertainty, as the rate of positive tests emerging at the gates of Liverpool’s AXA Training Centre in Kirkby grew rapidly.
With players and staff tested daily before they are granted access to the training ground, a sharp increase in those denied entry saw the club take drastic action.
Under advice from the public health authority, the AXA Training Centre was closed and, soon after, a request was filed to the EFL to postpone the first leg of the League Cup semi-final against Arsenal.
Describing the outbreak within Jurgen Klopp‘s first-team setup as “severe,” the EFL reluctantly agreed to a rearranged fixture: a week’s delay, with the first leg to be held at Anfield, rather than the Emirates.
But with Liverpool fielding a strong side for the FA Cup third-round clash with Shrewsbury days later, and Klopp revealing after the game that there had been “a lot of false positives” within the camp, suspicions have arisen among rival supporters.
“We had, how we thought, last week a proper outbreak. It showed up that we had a lot of false positives, actually,” he told reporters after the 4-1 victory at Anfield.
“But still, the rules are like they are. So all these players who were false positive couldn’t play today – or we decided not to play them. We had to make that decision.
“The only real positive case from the team was Trent Alexander-Arnold, and all the rest were false positives.”
Joe Gomez, Neco Williams, Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Diogo Jota all missed the tie, but, presumably, will be back ahead of the visit of Arsenal on Thursday night.
Bar any fitness issues, they will join Virgil van Dijk, Fabinho, Andy Robertson, Ibrahima Konate, Roberto Firmino, Kostas Tsimikas, Curtis Jones, Takumi Minamino and Caoimhin Kelleher in contention for the semi-final.
Alisson could be back, following his extended isolation after a positive test, while there is a chance Alexander-Arnold himself will also be involved.
The suggestion has been, then, that Liverpool exaggerated the severity of their Covid outbreak; the inability to name a senior side on Thursday before a host of key players lined up on Sunday was considered suspect.
That is almost understandable.
False positives are not uncommon, but it has been reported that as many as 40 cases arose last week, so what are the odds that, of those, only one player actually had the virus?
The word ‘cheat’ has been thrown around, while one Arsenal supporter even argued that Klopp “should stand trial” for his involvement.
A suspension of disbelief and fantasies of a football manager being locked up for tampering with lateral flow tests aside, can we at least define the word ‘cheat’?
Google, in its infinite wisdom, describes cheating as to “act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage.”
For Arsenal supporters – and those of seemingly every other Premier League club, at least on social media – that advantage is the return of key players for the upcoming semi-final.
Quite who those key players are is anyone’s guess.
Not Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane or Naby Keita; they’ll be at the Africa Cup of Nations until the day of the second leg at the very earliest.
Not Thiago, Harvey Elliott, Divock Origi or Nat Phillips; even if they return from injury, it is unlikely they will be heavily involved given how long they have been sidelined.
So would that be Leighton Clarkson, fresh from his seven appearances on loan at Blackburn in the first half of the season? Or Kaide Gordon, the 17-year-old back from Covid and tasked with filling in for the best player in the world?
The very same squad that would have been involved for that intended first leg at the Emirates on January 6 will be involved for the rearranged ties on January 13 and 20.
With the visit of Brentford in the Premier League to come between those, rather than a meeting with League One side Shrewsbury as originally scheduled, it is possible that Klopp opts for even heavier rotation – regardless of the fact it is a semi-final.
There is little to no advantage in the EFL agreeing to reschedule the semi-finals, and in fact, Liverpool have forfeited a major advantage of their own.
Originally, the second leg was due to be held at Anfield, giving the Reds home advantage.
Now, the fixtures are reversed, and Arsenal can chase a result – or look to extend a first-leg lead – in front of their fans at the Emirates, many of whom will be vlogging their own reactions rather than watching the game itself.
Liverpool had nothing to gain from postponing that fixture, particularly as it further congests the second half of the season, with a space yet to be found for the Boxing Day clash with Leeds.
Set to the backdrop of news that around 100 people, including the prime minister, attended a ‘BYOB’ party in a Downing Street garden during the first lockdown in May 2020 – a time when many were unable to be with loved ones in their final moments – it is downright crass to suggest Klopp was complicit in the falsifying of test results.
After all, Klopp himself was unable to attend the funeral of his own mother, Elisabeth, last February due to restrictions on travel back to his native Germany.
The terminology used by the club certainly hasn’t helped the situation: every reported case, even those with conclusive proof such as Klopp’s own layoff last week, is described as ‘suspected’.
From an outside perspective, it is easy to see why those ‘suspected’ cases, which are later revealed to have been ‘false positives’, lead to allegations of ‘cheating’.
But there was no advantage whatsoever in postponing that Emirates leg. Liverpool gained nothing from doing so.
Apart from, perhaps, now being able to kick off their semi-final against an Arsenal side who, despite starting the likes of Bukayo Saka, Martin Odegaard, Ben White and Nuno Tavares, contrived to lose to Nottingham Forest on Sunday.