Liverpool fans can often be heard to say “Liverpool FC exists to win trophies” but it’s a phrase more often used these days to justify a proper tilt at the domestic cups.
In terms of the League Cup, it is the one competition where Liverpool still rule the roost, with the trophy ending up at Anfield on eight occasions. Although old supporters – before a first ever success against West Ham United in 1981 – labelled the tournament the “Mickey Mouse” cup, those four successive victories in the 1980s gave the club a connection with the competition which has been hard to shake since.
Although the currently-named Carabao Cup will always be the poor relation, for Liverpudlians it still conjures images of Kenny Dalglish and Alan Hansen in white with red trim at a muddy Villa Park, a young Ronnie Whelan curling them in at Wembley and a peerless Graeme Souness at Maine Road lashing home against Everton.
Sadly those days have long gone. Indeed it also seems a lifetime since the finals of 2001 and 2003 in Cardiff. The romance of returning manager Dalglish’s penalty victory over Cardiff City in 2012 – which remains, almost incredulously, our last piece of silverware – obscures what was a pretty awful Liverpool team by comparison with this season’s crew.
Yes, Jurgen Klopp needs to win something but for most fans he gets a free pass with his selection – and probably the result – tonight. Ambitions lie much higher than success in this competition because his team are very much existing “to win trophies”, albeit ones of greater size and stature in 2019. Virgil Van Dijk said last week that the mindset within the club is to “win everything” but it’s hard to imagine him kicking up too much of a stink when he’s rested tonight.
It would be easy to bill the Anfield clash with Chelsea as a “dress rehearsal” for Saturday’s clash at Stamford Bridge but a swathe of the weekend cast will be missing. Only a resounding victory for Liverpool would strike a psychological blow of any note, and the game’s intrigues comes from those pressing claims for more regular starts in the Premier League.
Xherdan Shaqiri and Daniel Sturridge are so far the two most prominent of the outsiders looking in. The League Cup, and Liverpool’s progress, represents their best chance of playing enough games to stay in peak condition. Equally, for the likes of Joel Matip, Dejan Lovren, Albert Moreno and Nathaniel Clyne – all regular first picks at times under Klopp – they have the chance to cement the idea that the Reds’ squad is founded on quality over filler.
Klopp’s assurance that “there will not be the maximum amount of changes, nor will there be the minimum amount of changes” doesn’t give much away other than his playful news conference demeanour and that he will field a team to win the tie. The claims of youngsters Nat Phillips and Curtis Jones, who impressed in the first team ranks during the summer, will probably have to wait.
Regardless of the nuances on the bigger clash at the weekend, Liverpool will want to stay unbeaten at home; any defeat would look a stain on the purity this team is building at a newly-rediscovered Fortress Anfield. They will also be looking to buck two surprising trends; Chelsea’s seven-match unbeaten run at Anfield, and to improve on a record of just two wins in fourteen games against the Blues in all competitions.
Everything to play for nothing (we tell ourselves) to lose!
*all odds are subject to change.