Cup decline emphasises Liverpool's problems

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There's no escaping the fact that Liverpool's Premier League campaign ranks among the greatest failures of this 2011/12 season.

Last season's fluent form following the return of Kenny Dalglish as manager coupled with a deluge of summer spending; the precursor to several predicting a title win was in the offing, only acted as a placebo, papering over Liverpool's real problems.

The fans, pundits and manager all took the pill, and the comedown, with no title challenge and no Champions League football to enjoy next season, is crushing.

The antidote to their trials has come via their domestic cup success. Victory in the Carling Cup final over Cardiff City at least assures the club European football next season, while their venture in the FA Cup could yield a second trophy come May.

However, debate rages over whether their significant success in the cup competitions adequately dilutes their troubles in the league. With their pursuit of the top four having been an emphatic failure, as Arsenal put the final nail in the coffin in early March, an inability to fulfil the club's No.1 priority must therefore translate into a season of disaster.

Had the Reds endured a season like they have 20 years ago, the criticism of their league tribulations will have been overwhelmingly overshadowed by cup success.

The FA Cup was once considered the holy grail in English football. While the league tested the consistency of a club over an eight-month period, the cup's gravitas and unpredictability made it the true test of any great football manager. An FA Cup win was considered the crown jewel on any managerial CV.

Martin O'Neill, a winner of the Irish Cup as a player, and the Scottish Cup as a manager, but never the FA Cup, has long championed the competition's importance among his players.

"The Barclays Premier League has become the be all and end all - it's become the holy grail, and I understand that," said O'Neill.

"I understand that completely because that is your bread and butter, as it were. That's where you accumulate some points or that's where you could be relegated, and so all those things have a major bearing on the finances of a football club.

"Unfortunately because of that, cup competitions - and incredibly, the FA Cup - have suffered.

"I am hoping at some stage or another, it will get back to being what it used to be."

Away from the rhetoric regularly spouted on the eve of third round weekend, O'Neill speaks with genuine disappointment over the cup's decline.

So the source of distain surrounding Liverpool's season doesn't come in their failings, but the lack of appreciation for what they have achieved. All in all, their accomplishments, as their rivals enjoy European and league success, aren't viewed as relevant in the modern day.

The Merseysiders, lets not forget, are looking to become the fourth side to complete a League Cup and FA Cup double in the same season, and the first since 2007.

Sadly, in the Champions League era, such a feat isn't held in as high regard, and while the Anfield club can make history by completing the domestic cup double for a second time, their success may fall on deaf ears of those seeking solace from a disastrous league season, and more ominously for Dalglish, those who make the decision over his immediate future.

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