Liverpool traveled to London for the second leg (or rescheduled first leg) of their Carabao Cup semi-final against Arsenal and it didn’t disappoint, with the Reds coming away victorious after two goals from Diogo Jota paved the road to Wembley.
Jürgen Klopp spoke at length following the match of the squad’s performance against a tough opponent (with a couple notable mentions) and looking ahead to another final at Wembley against another top four side.
“I saw so many outstanding performances tonight, to be honest,” the manager began.
“It’s a very important game against a really strong Arsenal side. With our problems we have, there’s now not plenty of options to change probably. What the boys put out tonight was really special. The start of both halves I would say was Arsenal time, so they were really aggressive, really straight forward, all these kind of things.
“So we had to adapt to the game but we calmed it down and from that specific moment on in both halves we controlled the game and played really good stuff and, on top of that, scored wonderful goals. Yes, the first one you can still say it’s a team goal even when Diogo had to do a little bit before he could finish it off, but the positioning of Trent in that moment between the lines, passing the ball and Diogo goes across the line of the defenders – really difficult to defend.
“Second goal, I don’t think a lot of people in the stadium saw Diogo Jota free, but Trent saw it, which helps, and then a proper finish. Good defending, the way Arsenal plays with these long balls behind the full-backs, it’s really tricky with the speed they have there with Saka and [Martinelli]. That’s really, really special, so we had to be awake in these moments. But on top of that, we had to play football. The first 10 minutes I didn’t like what we played but then we were in the game and then it looked really flexible and proper. I’m happy about that.”
Liverpool have yet to win a domestic cup under Jürgen Klopp and though the focus maybe hasn’t been as sharp on these competitions since that first year under his management, the Reds are looking to take that piece of silverware - even if, you know, every manager and player wants to win any final they reach.
“Look, you play a final, it’s pretty likely that we will face an outstandingly strong team – that’s what happened now. Nevertheless, we wanted to qualify for it, so that’s what we did. Wembley is a special place – how we all know,” Klopp continued.
“There’s a lot of games to play until then, so it’s not now that you just play next week or whatever. There are a lot of games to play, we will see where we are then. But we really put a lot of effort in this competition and we really wanted to go through. So when you go through, when you’re in the final, there’s absolutely no reason to be part of a final if you don’t want to win it. We want to win it but we know how difficult it will be.”
Liverpool have a little over a month before their trip to Anfield South for the final, with hopefully a couple key players returning to Merseyside between now and then that will be itching for the chance to perform on that big stage. Although, knowing that the opponent is Chelsea ahead adds a little extra spice to the whole thing - especially considering how we got here with our rotated squad.
“Look, the situation is always a little bit the time of the year, who is available, how many games did you play, all these kind of things. I cannot just pick a team, I have a full squad on paper and then say, ‘OK, we go for these 11 and then we let them play’,” the manager added.
“We have to consider a lot of things and we always did that. But you need a little bit of luck in specific moments to get through – we never had that. We had always really tricky draws on top of that pretty early when we played a lot of games and couldn’t line up a team from the Premier League three days before.
“I don’t say it was always unlucky but we had these moments where we thought, ‘OK, away game at Chelsea is now not the easiest draw’ and these kind of things. So, it’s all good. We want to go for everything – we said that plenty of times. Now we are in the final, it doesn’t mean we have won it already, it just means we qualify for it. When we will be there at the end of February, we will give it a go – but unfortunately the opponent probably [will] as well.”
One name that has been a blessing to have on the squad sheet is Thursday’s goalscorer Diogo Jota, and the manager was full of praise for the talented attacker from Portugal.
“Mentality mixed up with quality was the reason we signed him because the way he played at Wolves, the yards he had to make there, the runs he had to make, the defending he had to do, but he was still always able to produce some really exciting stuff,” Klopp said.
“That was the reason we signed him. Now, in our kit, it is really nice to see. He didn’t only step up tonight, yes he scored two goals but he is incredibly important for us, so the mix of his skills is really exciting. He is in a good shape as well and long may it continue.”
Now the Reds look towards Sunday as they face Crystal Palace (same as the Women’s team) at Selhurst Park (or, you know, Nelson Road and home to AFC Richmond). Sadio Mane, Naby Keita, and Mohamed Salah have all seen their national teams advance out of the group stages of the African Cup of Nations so will not be due to return until those Round of 16 matches next week have been played (but we’re going into an international break after this weekend anyway so it doesn’t matter).
We’re going to Wembley.