Winter breaks, to be exact. As in, the boss has already declared that there will be no senior players for the replay with Shrewsbury Town because the senior team is on the newly-installed winter break and the Premier League specifically advised teams to respect it and not schedule friendlies or other non-league games during that time. The FA, of course, doesn’t care what the Premier League wants because English football (“We invented the game!”), tradition, blah blah blah. So, since the FA is still doing replays during their precious cup tournament (see: English football, tradition, the idiocy of inertia, etc.), said replay will happen during the winter break, which means that Neil Crutchley and the U23s will be squaring off with Shrewsbury at Anfield. Them’s the breaks when you give up a 2-0 lead to a League One side.
I see a lot of howling about the lack of VAR for this game (see again: English football, tradition, inertia, etc.) but I’m not sure that would have been a deciding factor. First off, the so-called “handball” in the box by the Fightin’ Kates was ridiculous. Ro-Shaun Williams has an arm because he’s human and the majority of them have arms in that spot on their bodies. Said arm was by his side. He didn’t control the ball with it. It just hit him there. Not even Shockley Park would make that call. Secondly, yes, the foul that Yasser Larouci committed was outside the box. If VAR was in use, they would have waved off the penalty kick and the official would have shown a red card to Larouci and we would’ve surrendered a free kick right outside the box and played the last 25 minutes with 10 men. So, no, VAR wouldn’t have helped and probably would have made it that much more difficult than the Reds already made it for themselves.
This was never so obvious as when Joel Matip got subbed off for Salah (who then proceeded to try to pass to him, walking along the touchline, if that gives you any indication of the way this game was generally played.) When’s the last time Klopp subbed off a CB for a forward, instead of the other way around? Yeah. I think the answer there is: “Never.” But this was also Matip’s first game since October 20 and the rust was overwhelmingly evident. Similarly, it was Dejan Lovren’s first game since December 20 and he didn’t look that great, either. Compounding that is the presence of a lot of the younger guys, most notably Larouci and Neco Williams, both of whom have the “attacking fullback” approach nailed down, but not so much the “defender” part. Pile all of that on top of Fabinho still getting back into form (his first start since November 27) and it was a confluence of circumstances that generally adds up to “a poor game.”
All credit due to Shrewsbury, however, as they came to play. It wasn’t just poor play on Liverpool’s part that led to the result. They regularly beat our guys to second balls, won any number of duels, tackled well, and attacked with enthusiasm and coordination. They stayed in a low block for much of the first half, but then realized they could get out ahead of our back line and moved up. In the second half, they stayed up, pressing at every opportunity and generally showing more interest in winning the game. But they were still able to maintain a good shape at the back, making the general lack of fluidity among 16-year-old Harvey Elliott, new signing and first starter Takumi Minamino, and regular backup Divock Origi rather painfully apparent. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that, especially in the second half, this Liverpool side got outplayed by a League One team. That’s pretty galling, but this is football and shit like that happens in football. One real upside is that the pitch at the New Meadow was in great shape, so there were no concerns about substandard conditions leading to an injury for anyone, as is occasionally the case in this kind of tie.
So, yeah, not too much to say about this game except: “Oops.” and “It’d be cool if the kids could win it.” Would’ve been nice to try to get the treble, but I’m not going to get into too much of a twist about it; first, because I don’t really care about the FA Cup anymore and, second, because I agree with Klopp’s point about fixture congestion and the idiocy of replays. So, if the kids win, great. If they don’t, hey, we’re about to win our 19th top division title and maybe follow that with our 7th European Cup. I’m not going to get into too much of a twist about missing out on our 8th FA Cup.
Now, there’s a man who understand the importance of labor, promises, and where the game fits into the picture of life. That’s why he’s our manager.