One good result won’t solve the mounting problems at Liverpool, but it sure would be a good distraction from them.
As the club’s fans continue to take an impressive and much-needed stance against the ever-increasing greed which encompasses the modern game of football, a recently hospitalised Jurgen Klopp has been dizzied by just what he’s wandered into on Merseyside. This wasn’t what it said in the brochure.
Yet one of the strangest Liverpool squads of recent times are still, as of right now, fighting on four fronts this season. A top four finish in the Premier League looks beyond them, but they’ll play in the League Cup final at the end of the month, the Europa League’s last-32 next week and the FA Cup at West Ham tonight – with a fifth round tie at Blackburn Rovers the prize for the winner.
There is a sense that this Reds squad is kind of just muddling through until the summer, though, when Klopp will be scouring the Bundesliga for a commanding goalkeeper, defenders who don’t crumble under pressure, an army of three-lunged, gegenpressed-up midfielders and forwards with hamstrings made of steel.
For months now Reds fans have been playing a kind of ‘Snog, Marry, Avoid’ game with their club’s players, working out who has a use in Klopp’s current team, who has a part to play in his future plans and who should be sold off at the first possible opportunity.
It has created a strange feeling of stasis around the club which has only been broken by the odd impressive performance or progression in a cup competition – the wins at Chelsea, Manchester City and Southampton, and beating Stoke on penalties to reach Wembley being the highlights. The fact that there have been just as many, if not more, lowlights tells you everything you need to know about the current team though.
The cast of characters has grown as Klopp has used the FA Cup to field sometimes remarkably young teams, but that all feels part of the process too. The manager needs to have a look at everyone before his widely-anticipated summer cull, after all.
Some have sunk, some have swum, but heading into this clash at Upton Park there is a real sense that Liverpool just have to seize the moment. This isn’t part of a wider picture, but rather an important game in one of the three competitions that they have a chance of winning.
To that end, the news that each one of the fit-again Philippe Coutinho, Divock Origi and, drumroll, Daniel Sturridge are set to play at least some portion of the game should be treated with optimism by the travelling supporters who have paid an entirely reasonable £25 for a ticket.
Klopp has already stated that tonight’s Liverpool will look different to the somewhat anaemic teams he fielded in both matches against Exeter City and the first clash with West Ham, and whilst the likes of Brad Smith, Kevin Stewart and Joao Carlos Teixeira deserve another chance, the rest of the side should have more of a ‘Liverpool’ feel to it.
The Reds go to the Premier League’s bottom club Aston Villa on Sunday, and then re-enter Europa League combat with a trip to Klopp’s homeland to face Augbsurg next Thursday. By the standards of the manager’s first few months in England these are rest periods, and so he should go noticeably stronger tonight.
Of course, he’ll say that he’ll be confident that whatever XI he picks will be good enough to win at Upton Park – where Liverpool’s ‘first team’ suffered a miserable defeat a month ago – but a carefully balanced selection would ensure that victory was even more possible.
Klopp may have arrived to the frenzied aura of a deity but he is no miracle worker. It will take time to solve the many, often self-inflicted problems which have engulfed Liverpool in recent years.
But a cup replay victory on a cold East London night? Perhaps with a Sturridge winner?
That’ll do for now.
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