12,352.35-3.15
Stock Analysis, IPO, Mutual Funds, Bonds & More

Divided in two: Liverpool to play two games in two continents in two days

For 72 hours, Liverpool will be a club divided in two: two games in two competitions on two continents in two days. It is a schedule that demands, in effect, two managers. It is not, of course, an even split — that Klopp is taking a full-strength squad to Qatar, leaving Critchley’s batch of hopefuls to face a battle-hardened Aston Villa.

New York Times|
Dec 15, 2019, 11.36 PM IST
0Comments
Getty Images
Klopp---Getty
Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool FC
By Rory Smith

On Sunday morning, less than 24 hours after watching his players try to maintain their eight-point lead at the summit of the Premier League, Jürgen Klopp and his Liverpool team will board a plane bound for Qatar, and the Club World Cup.

They will train on Monday in Doha, where there are a number of news media engagements booked for that afternoon. On Tuesday, Klopp will put the finishing touches to his plans for his team’s semifinal on Wednesday.

On Sunday morning, Neil Critchley, the manager of Liverpool’s under-23 team, will be preparing for the biggest game of his career. On Monday, he will be at Liverpool’s training facility at Melwood to give a news conference ahead of the club’s Carabao Cup quarterfinal at Aston Villa. That game is on Tuesday night.

For 72 hours, Liverpool will be a club divided in two: two games in two competitions on two continents in two days. It is a schedule that demands, in effect, two managers. It is not, of course, an even split — that Klopp is taking a full-strength squad to Qatar, leaving Critchley’s batch of hopefuls to face a battle-hardened Aston Villa, indicates precisely where Liverpool’s priorities lie.

They have, unlike Manchester United, never managed to win the Club World Cup, or its forerunner, the Intercontinental Cup. They declined to participate in the first two years it was eligible — 1977 and 1978 — because of the brutality that regularly scarred meetings between the champions of Europe and the champions of South America. They lost in 1984 to Independiente, of Argentina, and in 2005 to São Paulo, of Brazil. In 1981, They were dismantled by Flamengo, the team they are likely to meet in the final this time around. Quite where this tournament figures in football’s firmament is a matter of debate — below both a Premier League title and the Champions League is the correct answer, of course — but then these things are not always logical. Who would, really, turn down the chance to call themselves champion of the world? Liverpool’s involvement does, though, come at a cost. Ever since Klopp’s team swept past Manchester City at Anfield in November, the Premier League race has been presented as a fait accompli: The gap between Liverpool, the runaway leader, and City, the reigning champion, grew first to nine points, then 11and now, thanks to Manchester United’s derby win last week, 14 points. Most now identify Leicester City, eight points adrift in second, as Liverpool’s only realistic rival in the league.

The true picture is, perhaps, not quite as rosy (from a Liverpool perspective) or as predictable (from everyone else’s). Few managers are as outspoken about the perils of fixture congestion, as wary of the demands placed on players, as Klopp. The next few weeks may bear him out.

Liverpool has two games to play in Qatar, by which time it will, most likely, have been eliminated from the Carabao Cup. It then must face Leicester, Wolves and Sheffield United in the space of eight days in the Premier League.

Klopp will have seen the first weekend of January, and the third round of the FA Cup, as a chance for a break, but no such luck: the vicissitudes of the draw mean that Everton will be at Anfield that day, the occasion as superheated as ever. After that, it is back to the Premier League, with games against Tottenham, Manchester United and Wolves, again.

All of that comes on the back of a run of six games in 17 days, even before next week’s pileup. Liverpool has so many games to play that it has one — away at West Ham, postponed because of the Club World Cup — that does not yet have an official slot. Few of Liverpool’s players had an extended break last summer: Sadio Mané, its standout performer this year, had only a couple of weeks off because of national team duty for Senegal.

Klopp has already spent part of the season without Alisson Becker, his first-choice goalkeeper; Joel Matip, one of his first-choice defenders; and now Fabinho, his first-choice midfielder.

He can hardly plead poverty of resources, of course; he has a rich and deep squad. But, still: Liverpool is being tested to the limit. It might not look like it now, but it is possible that, should Leicester beat Manchester City next weekend and then Liverpool on Boxing Day, that the eight-point lead could be down to two, just as a daunting January schedule draws into focus. The Premier League is far from done. It is always a long road. For Liverpool, this year, it is slightly longer still.
Comments
Add Your Comments
Commenting feature is disabled in your country/region.

Other useful Links


Copyright © 2020 Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All rights reserved. For reprint rights: Times Syndication Service