Premier League – Wolverhampton Wanderers v Liverpool
By Simon Evans
(Reuters) – The following are three talking points after the FA Cup fourth round action this weekend:
KLOPP CALL SHOWS FA CUP IS IN CRISIS
The FA Cup used to produce upsets which stayed in the collective football memory for years – lower division clubs upsetting the big boys, the underdogs winning the hearts of the neutrals.
Those moments turned little known players into household names and in another era, Jason Cummings of Shrewsbury Town, who came off the bench to score twice as the League One (third tier) club did what only one Premier League team has managed this season – stopped Liverpool from winning.
But the sense of the return of the romance of the FA Cup lasted only a few minutes before the reality of this sadly diminished competition returned.
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp announced that not only would none of his first-team players feature in the replay at Anfield but that he wouldn’t bother turning up either.
Under 23s coach Neil Critchley will take charge for the game with Klopp taking a stand over the “winter break” that was introduced for this season but will be interrupted by the replay.
Klopp has a strong point that there is no sense in having a winter break – and urging clubs to take advantage of it and not play friendly games – if the players are then asked to play in a Cup tie during that period.
But there is also no escaping the fact that Klopp’s action is sending a clear message that he and the club simply don’t care about winning the FA Cup.
He is not alone in making that call of course – most Premier League clubs, and significantly many Championship teams too, had fielded weakened sides this weekend.
But nor can Klopp complain about having to play a replay after choosing to leave his first-choice strike action on the bench against the Shropshire side. Does anyone doubt that if Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino had started in Sunday’s game Liverpool would have won?
Klopp and the other managers who fielded weakened teams, always say how they respect the competition and are simply rotating their squad but there is no escaping the fact that managers who want to win games field their best teams.
The German has complained about fixture congestion all season – and with plenty of justification. He fielded a youth team in the League Cup quarter-final (losing 5-0 to Aston Villa) because his team were in the Club World Cup the day after that game.
And you will struggle to find a Liverpool fan who would disagree that Klopp’s priorities should be on winning the Premier League and the Champions League.
But let’s not have any more talk of respecting the Cup. It has become an unwelcome distraction for the big clubs and many not so big clubs.
The fixture list is over-full and it is time the game undertook a serious review of the English season and asked itself whether there is any point in asking Premier League clubs to play in two domestic cup competitions that they show such little interest in.
FANS GET THE MESSAGE
Premier League teams Burnley and Norwich both fielded weakened teams for their Cup tie on Saturday and only 8,071 fans bothered to turn up.
UNITED SHOW THE GULF
But what happens when a big Premier League club does field a strong side and really wants to win against a lower league side?
Manchester United, badly in need of a win after recent defeats in the league, showed the gulf that truly exists when they hammered League One Tranmere Rovers 6-0 at Prenton Park after leading 5-0 at the break.
The muddy pitch may have recalled the 1970s but the gap between the elite and the lower leagues is so much bigger these days.