Championship on ice or champions on the rocks?


Jurgen Klopp applauds the Liverpool fans at Stamford Bridge
Photo Liverpool FC

How can you be 22 points clear at the top of the league and not be having the greatest season ever? How can you be sweeping your way majestically to your first title in three decades and have doubters?

Those questions are probably baffling many Liverpool fans this morning as they digest the press and social media coverage of their 2-0 loss to an inconsistent Chelsea side in the FA Cup.

The FA Cup has diminished in prestige as the EPL and UEFA Champions League have swept over the public consciousness like a juggernaut.

The retreat in influence of the FA Cup has been so marked that in June, none other than acclaimed football author Richard Foster asserted that even the EFL Playoffs have replaced FA Cup Final in English fans’ hearts and minds.

“Liverpool have made the FA Cup interesting because they have made the EPL so uninteresting.”

So why did last night’s defeat at Stamford Bridge have the impact that it has?

Obviously, the easiest reason that it matters is that Liverpool have exited a trophy. Sure they have wrapped up the league and are in with a good chance of retaining the Champions League. But as Manchester City won the League Cup this weekend, nobody at the Etihad would urn down the chance to trade that piece of silver in, to be where Liverpool currently are.

Perhaps more importantly is that the result plays into a narrative that some, more in hope than expectation perhaps, started after their bruising 3-0 loss at Watford on Saturday. The Champions-elect were outplayed, out thought and out fought by a side who’d really failed to do anything of note thus far in the season.

Both the result and the game so far defied everything we knew about English football, that it surely had to be a freak? Last night’s loss in West London blew that out of the water. Liverpool have lost three consecutive away games for the first time in six years. In a year where they have broken record upon record at the positive end of streaks, it is astonishing for them to hit a six year low at even the most contrived statistic.

However there is another facet to this. Imagine that rather than 22 points ahead of Manchester City, the gap was just four. Would anybody care about an FA Cup exit with crucial league games and the second leg against Atletico Madrid on the horizon? Would anyone be looking beyond the Reds’ next game with Bournemouth at all?

No. This game nattered more because the league isn’t close. It mattered because Jurgen Klopp has done enough in the league to field his strongest team  in a stadium and against a side where they have found winning pretty easy recently. It mattered because he has raised expectations so high. Liverpool have made the FA Cup interesting because they have made the EPL so uninteresting.

The home leg with Atletico is to come. Should Liverpool perish and relinquish their grip on a trophy they currently hold, then perhaps the equation moves some distance to those already claiming their season hasn’t been an overwhelming success.

Then you could argue, they lost something as prestigious as what they won. Then you could argue that their sub-par domestic cup competition results act as a tiebreaker. You could argue that their league performance will always pale into insignificance next to Arsenal’s because of the loss at Vicarage Road.

But why? They have been among the the best sides to win the league since the EPL was formed. Even without some dubious VAR Assistance, they would have won it anyway. Certainly no other side has come close to deserving the monicker of Champions this year.

So let the jury wait till March 11th and the second leg. If Liverpool are still on course for a double, I reserve the right to keep my thesaurus of superlatives at the ready.

Unless they lose to Everton five days later.

Then I’ll burn it while singing the Z-Cars theme tune.


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