Kindergarten Klopp’s League Cup Win

Believe it or not, I hate talking about referees. I wish we lived in an era when we barely knew who they were, let alone felt like we had to discuss them every week. Sadly, though, the match referees are personalities in their own right and regularly enter the post-match discourse. Ahead of the final, the PGMOL’s Twitter account released a video of Chris Kavanagh, talking about how it was a big game for him and talking us through the manner in which his appointment to the role went about. In my eyes, there is no world in which a professional referee should be making such a video unless it’s for family and friends. The Professional Game Match Officials Limited certainly shouldn’t be releasing such videos onto their social media account, effectively trying to turn its members into celebrities. Not that broadcasters like Sky and TNT Sport help, of course. Any time anything happened in the match yesterday, Sky turned to Mike Dean to offer a defence of the atrocious decisions being made by his mates instead of offering a genuinely neutral take on the matter.

Chris Kavanagh entered the match determined not to ‘spoil’ anything by brandishing a card too early. What that meant was that Chelsea’s players knew that they could get away with being overtly physical, safe from any sort of repercussions from the referee. Moises Caicedo should have been shown a yellow card early on in the match but wasn’t. The result was that he could go flying into tackles without worrying that he’d be sent off. That, in turn, led to him injuring Ryan Gravenberch with a tackle that should have been a red card on its own, even without a second yellow. That it wasn’t even given as a free-kick tells you everything that you need to know about Kavanagh’s level of refereeing. Moan about the Video Assistant Referee system all you want, but it is the same incompetent idiots running it as refereeing matches, so scrapping it isn’t going to make anything better. The disallowed goal was an absolute joke, with referees seemingly desperate to rule out goals if they can. The level of refereeing Liverpool have faced this season is truly horrific.

Bucketfuls of Character

Cup finals are always tense affairs. There is a sense that there is almost more to lose than there is to win, given the manner in which a goal can feel as thought it’s turned the game on its head. For Liverpool, the lack of Alisson Becker wasn’t the biggest issue, given Caoimhin Kelleher was always going to start, but the fact that we couldn’t call on the likes of Mohamed Salah, Diogo Jota, Darwin Núñez and Curtis Jones meant that the team that started the game very much had to win in it. At least, that’s how it felt. The starting XI was already weaker than many might have hoped for the first domestic final of the season, but all of the lads that played, with the exception of Joe Gomez’s absence, were the strongest fit and available ones that we had. The bench looked incredible weak, purely because of the lack of experience that we had on it. Bobby Clark and James McConnell had picked up a few minutes over the course of the season, but were hardly brimming with experience. Jayden Danns wouldn’t have been picked out of a lineup prior to a quick cameo against Luton Town.

If we didn’t win it in 90 minutes, it was feared, then we’d struggle to keep Chelsea’s billion pound squad at bay in the period of extra-time that would follow. Having spent such huge sums of money assembling the team and with a manager who got Tottenham Hotspur playing great football, surely the experience of the London club would shine through the longer the game went on for. Only football isn’t just about experience. The sport that we all love doesn’t just break down to how much someone cost. There are many, usually those who have #FSGOUT in their Twitter bio, who would have Liverpool run like Todd Boehly’s Chelsea, failing to realise that throwing money at a problem isn’t always the solution. What Jürgen Klopp has assembled is a squad with bucketfuls of character and a desire to win not because of how much they’re paid but because of what it means to play for this manager and us as supporters. As the game went on and extra-time came into play, Liverpool should’ve wilted and Chelsea grown stronger but the opposite was true. What a set of lads.

A Brilliant Legacy for the Manager to Leave Behind

Speaking in his post-match press conference, Jürgen Klopp said that he doesn’t care about his own legacy. Knowing what we know of the man, I can imagine that that is true. The German has always looked to put everyone else ahead of himself. When he renewed his contract a few years ago, for example, he only did so on the understanding that the rest of his backroom staff got a pay rise instead of him. Whether he likes it or not, though, he has a legacy and the kids that we saw do so well against Chelsea are a big part of it. Let’s be clear, it would have been very easy for the manager to leave his more experience players on the pitch in spite of their evident tiredness yesterday. Plenty of managers would have opted to start Joe Gomez over Conor Bradley at right-back. There would also have been many who would have rushed back the likes of Mo Salah, Trent Alexander-Arnold Dominik Szoboszlai, even at the risk of aggravating their injuries. That, though, isn’t how Jürgen Klopp looks to operate and thanks to his approach we won the cup and the youngsters gained a huge amount of experience.

More than that, it means that the club is in rude health for whoever takes over from Jürgen in the summer. Xabi Alonso is the red-hot favourite, with good reason, but even if it is not him then as long as it is someone who puts giving youth a chance ahead of wanting to go into the transfer market at every available opportunity then I’ll be happy. By asking the owners to spend vast sums of money on the AXA Training Centre, the manager has ensured that the younger players are in the same building as the senior squad and can see what they aspire to be. The work done by Alex Inglethorpe and others is a big part of the reason why we won that trophy yesterday, but what the manager has ensured is a club where the ethos runs from top to bottom. The players coming onto the pitch yesterday knew their role and what was expected of them, but they also knew that they were accepted to be part of the squad because of how the structure of the club has changed. Whoever comes in next has a brilliant squad to work with full of talented youngsters, which is definitely Jürgen Klopp’s legacy.

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