I’ve made no secret of the fact that the FA Cup means only slightly more to me than the League Cup. It was formerly seen as the greatest prize in English football, but as the idea of a league title as the true test of a team’s greatness grew, the only knockout tournament that began to matter was the Champions League, since that represented the champion of all Europe and not just a knockout tournament where you’ll spend the first couple rounds playing against clubs who aren’t even vaguely competitive with yours. Of course, the same could be said about the CL group stage in many years (including this one, for Liverpool, at least. Oops.) I’m relatively certain I’m not alone in this perspective, as well, given the rather muted celebrations that accompany most victories that secure the FA Cup in recent decades. The exception, of course, would be a club winning it for the first time, like Leicester last season.
However, this tournament at least has more of the weight of history than the still-artificial seeming WITSBP cup and commentators will never hesitate to voice the catchphrase: “The magic of the Cup.™” I’m writing this while half-watching ManU play the Villans and Martin Tyler has just mused on the “feel of a Cup tie”, as if the lineups on each side are any different from what they would be during a standard Premier League match (Narrator: They weren’t.) In the case of clubs that are pursuing different goals and often need to rotate their squads during the winter months, they are often different lineups, especially when playing one of those aforementioned not-really-competitive opponents. In our case, we were playing League One side, Shrewsbury Town, for the second time in three seasons and have been impacted by injuries, COVID, and departures for AFCON, so it was always going to be a situation where the assembled squad was going to be dominated by academy types.
In fact, a lot of the reaction on Twitter was about how strong the lineup actually was, with Virgil Van Dijk captaining a back line that included Ibrahim Konaté and Andy Robertson, with Fabinho in front of them. Of course, with COVID and red card layoffs, there are any number of senior players who haven’t had a lot of game time over the holiday period, so this was a great time to get them some minutes while easing in younger players like Kaide Gordon, Tyler Morton, and Conor Bradley who’ve had limited senior minutes but could certainly use more if we’re going to continue to execute Jürgen Klopp’s and FSG’s master plan of a self-sustaining club with players that are already immersed in the culture and our approach to the game. In Broken Record comment #7563: That approach is why bringing in some expensive player in January is often a waste of time and money, since Jürgen often won’t trust their ability to contribute right away unless we’re desperate for bodies like we were last season with Ozan Kabak and Ben Davies; one of whom was immediately sent back to his loan club and the other of whom has yet to play a senior minute for Liverpool.
What playing a ton of Da Youts also means is that the game might actually be interesting to watch, given a bunch of 17- and 18-year-olds playing against men in their 20s and 30s, lesser skilled or not. That was, indeed, the case yesterday, as the “magic of the Cup™” emerged when the Shrews took the lead for a few minutes before the Reds got organized and finally made their 83%(!) possession begin to tell. Town’s captain, Ethan Ebanks-Lindell’s habit of waving a hand in the air while leaping for corners in the box didn’t hurt, either. But the best part was getting to see Kaide showing maturity in a crowded box with a ball fed into him by Conor; getting to see Tyler show his genuine talent at moving the ball around the middle third, contested and not; and the continued excellence of Caoimhin Kelleher between the sticks. The little bonuses of Fabinho scoring a brace (and a penalty) for the first time as a Red and Bobby Firmino demonstrating that wonderful magic that is always uniquely his just made it that much more enjoyable. So, yay, decent Cup game. It’s not quite magical, but it’s been a long time since I was considered a youth, too, so what do I know?
Liverpool 4 – 1 Shrewsbury Town
We often encounter sides that are reluctant to “come out and play”, as it were. But this is the first time this season that we’ve encountered a side so determined to both not play the ball and generally not come out of their own end. Many clubs play on the counter when they’re playing a bigger/faster/more talented club. But most don’t do that when they’re playing against a side that has a front line made up of two teenagers and a midfielder (Curtis Jones.) But, whatevs. That’s how they planned it out because they had no idea what our lineup was going to be and we probably didn’t either until the day before the match. One thing that was noticeable to me and a couple others on Twitter was that our midfield was pretty disorganized in the first half, as we weren’t making proper transitions through the middle third. But that changed when Tyler and Elijah Dixon-Bonner switched sides, with the former coming to the right and the latter going left. That gave Conor more support from a better passer and resulted in our first goal to level things. As good as Kaide’s control and levelheadedness were, it was also an ideal cutback by Conor to get him the ball. The one rock in midfield, though, was the usual suspect:
Added to those 62 completed passes were three long balls and his chip ahead of Tyler, leading to Bob’s goal, was a smart pass, as well, if a little overhit. That was also the first penalty he’s taken in non-endgame situations since he arrived at Liverpool (He was Monaco’s regular, while he was there.) Speaking of Bob:
I’m trying not to hype up the veterans too much because, again, this game was largely about Da Youts. But there’s no denying what Bob brings to the table and he did the above in about 20 minutes, including this masterful piece of Bobism:
Because why not? But Conor had a ton of action on the right side and did well.
You can argue he could’ve done more to prevent the goal they scored, but so could’ve Ibrahima. It happens and this was the perfect match in which to learn a lesson (e.g. one that didn’t mean that much.)
The Doesn’t Mean That Much Cup (DMTM) continues next month when we play Cardiff City. Meanwhile, what was to be the second leg against Arsenal in the semi-final for the WITSBP cup is on again on Thursday so, yay. Did you hear the one about how Liverpool colluded with the EFL, the FA, and a local health authority to get a dozen players declared as positive with COVID just to avoid playing Arsenal in the first leg? Yeah. That’s a good one. It’s also a sign of just how stupid/conspiracy-addled football Twitter (and the world) really is. Of course, it’s also stupid to still be having a two-legged semifinal in the lesser cup tournament, but this is England.
Meanwhile, if you really want some “magic of the Cup™”, you should check out the following clip, which is a completely insane match between Championship Barnsley and League Two Barrow. Even me, the cynic (Stoic, actually), thought it was great: