As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’m a bit under the weather today. I’m feeling a bit sick and my head is swimming. Which means that a lot of yesterday played out in a bit of a haze. I woke up late, meaning I’d have the late Mass to take my daughter to. It also meant I could catch some of the FA Cup match and check in on the state of the kids and hope that Naby Keita, the Admiral, at least made the 18.
The past 24 hours have been a long meditation on what is appropriate. What’s the appropriate response, first, to an FA Cup match wherein the best team in world football drops a result from a winning position to a side that is two leagues below them in standing? What to make of a match that will require a replay in the middle of what is supposed to be a break for players in the Premier League?
The answer to the latter question was immediately available, at least, as Jurgen Klopp insisted that a reserve/youth team would take the field against Shrewsbury at Anfield next week. Out of respect and concern for the number of miles on his players legs - and knowing the injury scares that have already popped up this season - Klopp understandably wants to honor the use of that mid-winter break as the Premier League initially intended it.
And while there will certainly be a bit of blowback from people who deeply believe in the storied history of the FA Cup - a position that is not at all invalid - one can at least appreciate what Klopp’s doing here. Namely, not only prioritizing his athletes’ health, but also leaning into one of the expectations of a big club: that the entire system should be of a high enough quality to ably absorb and compete in all competitions.
Rotation was always going to be necessary to compete on all fronts. And while it would have been nice to have fielded a full strength squad, it was never likely given the fixture congestion. The club’s lower systems must be stocked with enough quality to provide the team a fighting chance in these matches. Looking at how the young Reds have generally done - youthful inability to close out a match notwithstanding - one would have to agree that Liverpool’s system is up to snuff and should provide Shrewsbury Town with a true test.
Ultimately, the way that Liverpool are approaching this competition makes sense. Yes, the Reds could have done better and just got the job done against Shrewsbury in this match. But I’m sure that if Jurgen Klopp had fielded a full strength squad and an injury or two occurred, he’d have been raked over the coals for it.
Regardless, it’s clear that Liverpool are prioritizing the Premier League and the Champions League. And even if their chances in advancing in the FA Cup feel a bit diminished, I wouldn’t put it past this crop of youngsters. With the likes of Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott, you really can’t count them entirely out.
And I, for one, am very much looking forward to seeing them go out under the Anfield lights and make believers out of all of us.