ALL SMILES: Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was happy with the performance of the U23 team in the FA Cup. — AFP/VNA Photo
The smile on the probably sun-tanned face of Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp will be even wider than it normally is right about now.
After his side were held to a 2-2 against minnows Shrewsbury in the FA Cup last month, the German said not only would he not be playing any of his first-team squad in the replay, but he wasn’t even bothering going to the match himself.
Instead, he allowed his first-teamers to enjoy a winter break and left negotiating the fourth round match to Under 23 manager Neil Critchley and his team of youngsters.
Liverpool won and Klopp's controversial decision was vindicated.
The match may have featured a bunch of virtual unknowns but it still attracted a decent crowd (helped by Liverpool’s decision to vastly reduce ticket prices) with more than 52,000 people packed into Anfield.
Klopp was lambasted for, in the eyes of some, disrespecting the historic competition and not taking it seriously, but once again his gamble paid off.
Shrewsbury’s fans will be lamenting a missed opportunity not to have beaten a bunch of kids and Klopp will be wondering (once he has finished on the sun-lounger) what to do next.
Liverpool face Chelsea away in the fifth round in a little under a month’s time, and by then, the first-team could be just a win or two away from recording their first-ever Premier League title.
So does Klopp stick with the kids and face yet more grief from those supposedly in the know, or does he play his superstars at Stamford Bridge?
Personally I think it is a no-brainer. Klopp has to stick with his formula and give the likes of Harvey Elliot, Curtis Jones and co the chance to develop from boys to men.
But what all this chopping and changing has done is started the debate of whether, in its current format, the FA Cup still holds its appeal.
Maybe, as the game changes at a mind-boggling pace (imagine VAR 20 years ago), then it is time for a rethink.
Some have suggested that the answer is to do away with replays, and decide the outcome of a match with a penalty shoot-out if a winner isn’t forthcoming after 90 minutes.
Supporters of Premier League clubs who have bigger fish to fry will obviously answer in the affirmative, but what of those who watch the likes of Shrewsbury Town every week?
There’s no doubt they would have made a decent amount of money after the first match was televised in the UK, and even though the replay wasn’t on the box, the cash earned from ticket sales would have been a fair amount as well.
So what’s more important to the lower league teams? A home match against one of the so-called big boys and potential victory, or a trip to the likes of Old Trafford, Anfield or Stamford Bridge for a decent pay-day but slim chance of a win?
It has been suggested that in future, if a Premier League team is drawn against non-league or much lower-league opposition, then those below should be allowed to decide if they play home or away.
Decisions like that can only be made when the owner and manager of the lower league opposition weigh up what is best for them at that particular time.
Until then, I don’t have a problem with Liverpool fielding a bunch of kids in the next match against Chelsea, just as long as the game doesn’t kick-off too late as most of them will probably have school the next morning. — VNS