I recently got into an online debate where my views that we should simply abandon the cups were vehemently opposed. I suggested we take on Oldham with the following XI: Jones – Wisdom, Carragher (c), Coates, Robinson – Coady, Allen, Suso – Sterling, Shelvey, Borini. Shelvey as a false 9, with Suso as a false 10, 4-1-2-3. The bench was to contain Suarez, Sturridge, Henderson and some kids. When asked “What if the tie was United at Anfield, rather than an away fixture against Oldham?” I replied I would field the same side. Some agreed with the sentiment but the point was raised that Rodgers wouldn’t hear the end of it from the Kop. I said it was part of the manager’s job to manage the expectations of the Kop.
The following statement kept coming up throughout the debate: “I want a cup run but not at the expense of the league”. All this told me was that people wanted a cup run. “Yes, yes, it mustn’t affect the league, but that doesn’t happen, so we’ll take a cup run especially since we’re practically through to the 5th round already” mentality; people who blindly believe that cup runs don’t influence league form, despite the evidence to the contrary last season where Liverpool reached 2 finals but fell completely apart in the league around the time of the first.
It wasn’t just Liverpool though – clubs that won the FA Cup either lifted the EPL title or didn’t compete for it. In the latter case the fixture load was shown to be overwhelming. If you can win the league you can win the cup, but winning the cup does not guarantee you can win (or even compete) in the league. Going back to the 2000-2001 season, the team that won the FA Cup won the league twice, came second twice, and finished 3rd or worse on the other 8 occasions. In fact, the team winning the FA Cup finished 3rd with as few as 69 points twice during this period, where prior to 2010 it was common for the 3rd placed team to finish near 80 points.
It’s fairly clear that an FA Cup run hurts one’s chances of finishing with as many points in the league as one would want, unless one’s squad is deep enough with sufficient quality to win the double; even Chelsea with their rich squad and bloated success in the FA Cup couldn’t finish within 5 points of the league winners in 3 of the 4 seasons they won the FA Cup under Abramovich, most recently finishing 6th in their Champions’ League/FA Cup winning season where their league form actually deteriorated after Villas Boas was sacked.
So surely if one is weighing up the options of cup run vs league run then one needs to assess the effect extra fixtures has on the team’s league form. What better test than European competition? Ignoring Liverpool’s home-and-away qualifier against FC Gomel prior to the EPL season opener, Liverpool played 8 fixtures in the Europa League this season. In the EPL fixture immediately following these 8, Liverpool drew 5, lost 2, and won 1. The won game was against West Ham, where Diame’s injury turned the tie on its head; a lucky escape for Liverpool! Pardon me for not being encouraged by this, especially since Rodgers has only signed one player thus far while letting go of Joe Cole; I’ll believe we have signed Coutinho when I see him with pen in hand at Melwood. The squad is too thin, and we’ve done nothing about that.
So as far as I am concerned, if we are to be serious in our efforts to reach the top 4 this season (or at least finish a plucky 5th), then the extra fixtures in the Europa League and the FA Cup (and the rescheduling of the fixture against Swansea due to their participation in the League Cup final) are a burden we can simply not afford. I understand the need to keep players sharp, but Liverpool travel to the Emirates on Wednesday to face a side that has had an extra day’s rest, and against whom a win could put us in prime position for 6th ahead of them (or even 5th if Everton continue their slide). If we’re going to be plucky in the league, then why not be plucky in the FA Cup with the kids? Give them the incentive to win by promising them starts in the next game no matter the opposition.
I’m confident the side I picked above will beat Oldham anyway; all this “showing respect” is utter nonsense for the quality of players we possess relative to theirs. I’m tired of hearing how opposing managers of bottom table sides like Norwich and Aston Villa are doing well with their clubs and how we will have to play well to win. Twaddle! Shankly made his players believe they were unbeatable, and then when they walked out on the pitch they proved him right. Rodgers needs to start doing that as well if he’s to have a successful career in charge of Liverpool. But until he can we’re just better off without distractions that do little to enhance the stature or bank balance of the club.