Football Features

Jurgen Klopp has repeated his only mistake from 2018/19… and it could cost Liverpool a shot at history

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 18:23, 4 March 2020

Liverpool have lost two consecutive games for the first time in just over a year.

They last tasted defeat in back-to-back competitive games at the start of 2019 when they lost to Manchester City in the Premier League and followed that up by losing to Wolves in the FA Cup third round. This time, they obviously tasted defeat at Vicarage Road against Watford and were beaten by Chelsea in the FA Cup fifth round.

Straight away, you can see a slight parallel with the second defeat being an FA Cup tie, but the similarities actually run deeper than that. Truth be told, Klopp made a huge mistake in 2018/19 that led to that second defeat, and he repeated it this year too. What is this mistake? And how could it affect Liverpool’s season? Read on and find out!

The build-up

The build-up is the major difference between the two incidents, but there are similarities. In 2018/19, Liverpool came into the Man City defeat in utterly monstrous form. They played eight games in December, winning them all while scoring 25 goals and conceding just three. They went from being two points behind City to seven points ahead. The match was do-or-die for City, and they did.

This year, things were a bit more complicated. The Reds lost recently to Atlético Madrid and were also held by Shrewsbury in the FA Cup. In terms of the league, however, they had just equalled City’s record 18 consecutive wins. They weren’t playing as well as in 2018/19, but they were a relentless machine built for grinding out victories until they fell apart against Watford, losing 3-0.

The mistake

The mistake, shared in both years, was not taking the FA Cup seriously after a league loss. Klopp has always rotated heavily in domestic cups but in a tight and tense title race, rebounding after a defeat is important and Liverpool should have taken the chance to do just that. Playing a strong side would have also given Liverpool a great chance to advance and, you know, maybe win the FA Cup. But in 2018/19, Klopp put out a side full of back-ups at Molineux and they were subsequently beaten 2-1 by Wolves.

This year? They got thrashed by Watford and despite facing a trip to Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup, Klopp again put out an understrength side. There were more first-teamers than in 2019, but Alisson and Trent Alexander-Arnold were left out entirely while Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino came off the bench as they did against Wolves. These changes did make a difference as Liverpool missed Alisson’s solidity in goal (a needless Adrian error was hugely costly against the Blues) and Alexander-Arnold’s creativity.

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The aftermath

The decision to take the FA Cup less than seriously was a huge mistake because, in both seasons, it robbed Liverpool of the chance to claim their first-ever historic Treble. This is most obviously because it eliminated them from the FA Cup, but in 2018/19, it also had a secondary knock-on effect where it devastated their league form.

From eight wins in a month, Liverpool drew four of their next eight league games, five if you include their Champions League first-leg against Bayern Munich. That saw their lead evaporate from four points ahead (after losing to City) to being one point behind — Pep Guardiola’s men were even able to lose to Newcastle in that time and still hold the lead.

The poor form as a result of Klopp not instantly picking his side up with a strong FA Cup win literally cost Liverpool the league. They won nine straight games after that but City matched them stride-for-stride and Liverpool thus ended up losing the league by that single point.

This season, they have a colossal 22-point lead (19 if City win their game in-hand), so they will almost certainly claim their first league title for 30 years even if they go on a run of dodgy draws as in last season. However, they have once again lost the chance to match Celtic, Ajax, Manchester United, Barcelona (twice), Inter and Bayern Munich by picking up historic Trebles and it could get worse.

Liverpool are still able to complete a European Double (their third, taking them level with Ajax, Bayern and Real Madrid, leaving them behind only Barcelona) but the thing is, they are currently losing to Atlético Madrid, remember? They lost 1-0 at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Liverpool’s head coach Jurgen Klopp reacts during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg match between Atletico de Madrid and Liverpool FC at Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid, Spain, 18 February 2020. EFE/ JuanJo Martin

Now, they have the power of Anfield to help them overturn that loss, but should Klopp’s mistake have the same aftermath as it did last year then suddenly breaking down Diego Simeone’s defensive juggernaut looks a much trickier prospect. And given Liverpool came into their 2020 losses in much worse form than they did their 2019 ones, and that they have looked tired and sluggish since the Premier League winter break in general, it’s not outlandish to worry that they could fail to raise their game for Atleti and that their season could peter out leaving them to celebrate “only” a Premier League title.

It would still be a phenomenal achievement, of course, but has Klopp’s mistake of undervaluing the FA Cup once again stopped them from performing a genuine footballing miracle?

Time will tell, but the signs aren’t good.

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