This weekend, Liverpool will take a break from their Premier League campaign and instead host West Bromwich Albion at Anfield in the fourth round of the FA Cup.
Both Alan Pardew and Jürgen Klopp may feel they have greater priorities to focus on this season – West Brom are fighting relegation, while the Reds are attempting to secure successive top four finishes for the first time since 2009.
Having worked so hard to qualify for the Champions League last season, before qualifying as group winners in this year’s competition, Liverpool will want to extend their stay at Europe’s top table for as long as possible.
FA Cup the best chance?
However, their chances of adding a sixth European Cup in 2017 appear slim at best, given the quality of opposition both at home and abroad.
Liverpool can beat anyone on their day – as their victory over Manchester City proved – but to ask Klopp’s Reds to repeat that round after round is probably too much to ask for this season.
Meanwhile, the Premier League title is firmly in the hands of Manchester City, barring the greatest collapse since Newcastle United. Yet for Pep Guardiola’s dominant side to repeat the spectacular demise of Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle United team, allowing Manchester United to sneak the title in 1996, would be an even greater shock given the quality available to the blue half of Manchester.
Liverpool can only fight for the remaining Champions League places, most likely with Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal for third and fourth. The title will not be coming to Merseyside this year, but next year, who knows?
However, for the rest of this season, Liverpool can only look to the FA Cup for a realistic chance of winning silverware, something the club desperately needs.
The FA Cup no longer carries the prestige it once did now that modern football has become overwhelmed with wealth at the highest level, particularly in the Premier League and Champions League, hence the increased focus on those competitions.
Nevertheless, the FA Cup still offers a day out at Wembley – an experience that has been almost non-existent for Liverpool fans since the stadium re-opened over a decade ago – and continues to provide numerous shocks and great sporting stories. For instance, Lincoln City’s magical run to the quarter-finals last season, despite their status as a non-league outfit, captured the imagination of all in football.
Despite this, big clubs often use the early rounds of both the League Cup and FA Cup to rotate the team heavily (if their draw is kind), even selecting youngsters from their academies instead of players from the first-team squad.
Liverpool rotate as much as anyone else, but the Reds have always attempted as a club to provide opportunities to their young players, and this attitude is particularly prevalent under Klopp.
Now more than two years into his reign as Liverpool manager, Klopp has regularly selected young players that have progressed through the academy in the first-team, and not just in the domestic cup competitions either, but also the Premier League. Jordon Ibe would be one early example.
Admittedly, the quality of Liverpool’s squad in Klopp’s initial period at the club was far from perfect, providing the German with an opportunity to throw in Liverpool’s best young talent.
Yet that would be doing Klopp a disservice. If the player is good enough, Klopp has always been prepared to invest in them and is steadfast in his beliefs about coaching and progress. Perhaps such ideals hinder Liverpool’s manager with respect to some of Liverpool’s longer-serving senior members, but young players could not wish for a better manager to look up to than Klopp, especially when opportunities for young players in big games are so rare for the top clubs.
By comparison, Liverpool’s academy will be full of players fully motivated to work and apply themselves as they know the rewards of first-team football at Anfield are tangible under this manager.
Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez are prime examples of the success Klopp has had with his methods, but others have been knocking on the door and played first-team football under Klopp, such as Ben Woodburn and Ovie Ejaria.
They all know that the chance of playing for Liverpool Football Club is there, they just have to show that they are worthy of the shirt in attitude, commitment and talent.
Liverpool do need to field a strong side against West Brom, as the wait for a trophy cannot continue much longer. However, even if only one or two youngsters are selected on the bench this weekend, Klopp’s message to those striving in the academy will continue.