When Angelo Ogbonna headed home Dimitri Payet’s free-kick for West Ham United in the dying stages of last week's fourth round FA Cup replay, he left Liverpool devastated.
Last minute strike
The Reds more than matched the home side at Upton Park for 120 minutes; however, Ogbonna’s goal left those travelling back to Merseyside with a gut-wrenching feeling in their stomach.
Jurgen Klopp fielded a slightly below par side who had been resilient and took to their task at hand gamely but Liverpool left east London empty-handed and out of the FA Cup.
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Whereas Klopp would have been keen to progress to the fifth round of the world’s oldest cup competition and travel to Blackburn Rovers, he should not be too disheartened.
Busy fixture list
Of course, being left in each cup competition is a luxury every manager desires; however, it could prove a blessing in disguise for Liverpool.
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The Reds’ hectic fixture schedule has been well-documented this season. Throughout December and January, Liverpool contested in 16 matches or, to put it in easier terms, two matches per week.
To make matters worse, the ex-Borussia Dortmund’s resources were significantly limited. Key players such as Philippe Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge and Martin Skrtel were sidelined through injury for the majority of that time and Liverpool’s squad was well strung out.
Blessing in disguise
Going out of the FA Cup now means there is no longer the added stress of another competition.
If Liverpool were to have beaten West Ham, it would have meant another month of playing twice a week. On February 28, Klopp is forced to prepare for Liverpool’s biggest match since they pursued the Premier League title in 2014.
The Reds face Manchester City in the League Cup final, contesting in their first final for almost four years and chase their first piece of silverware since they won the same tournament in 2012.
Too long have Kopites been starved off a history-making afternoon. Liverpool were in the driving seat to win the league in 2014, but the most misfortunate Steven Gerrard slip meant it was not to be. The Reds also registered a dismal performance last season in the FA Cup semi-final against Aston Villa.
Things haven’t been plain sailing for Liverpool this season. They sit eighth in the top flight and a Champions League finish looks well out of reach.
However, Liverpool have a superb opportunity to take the bull by the horns and prosper in the cup competitions they are still in.
The Reds meet Augsburg in the last 32 of the Europa League. Although they’ve been handed a generous draw against a team who are flirting with relegation in the Bundesliga, the timing of the matches was the most awkward thing for Klopp.
Liverpool travel to Augsburg tonight for the first leg. What could have made things difficult for Klopp is that he could have also been planning for a clash against Blackburn this weekend.
The Reds then host the Bavarian outfit on February 25 before meeting Manchester City on the 28th. The fixture list would have given Klopp a serious headache if Liverpool had have seen off West Ham.
Although younger protagonists such as Cameron Brannagan and Connor Randall will undoubtedly feature at some stage, it would have meant Klopp really putting his mind to the test to give him the best side available to face Man City.
That could have potentially jeopardised Liverpool’s chances of moving into the last 16 of the Europa League and their only viable solution of competing in next season's Champions League. However, with Liverpool out of the FA Cup, it gives them a distinct advantage over the Citizens prior to the Wembley clash.
City's tough fixtures
Manuel Pellegrini’s side firstly face a stiff task of travelling to Chelsea in the last 16 of the FA Cup on February 21. With the Blues’ title hopes down and out, Guus Hiddink and his team will be in hot pursuit of capturing the trophy they last won in 2012.
Although Liverpool have a midweek match on February 18, Jordan Henderson, James Milner and the rest of the Anfield dressing room can enjoy a rare weekend off when City face Chelsea.
With no weekend match, Klopp has the leisure of being able to field a strong side against Augsburg in his homeland.
The Reds have a chance to overwhelm Markus Weinzierl’s side and gain a sufficient amount of away goals for Klopp to play the youngsters in the return leg on home soil and protect their lead.
If all was to go to plan, Liverpool’s core players would have a good ten days of rest before the League Cup final. It’ll also mean the Merseyside outfit are one step closer to winning the Europa League.
Compare that to Man City who face a near 3,500-mile trip to Dynamo Kiev in between their meeting against Chelsea and trip to Wembley.
The Champions League has become the Holy Grail for City. They’ve won every domestic competition available; it’s now time for their riches to prove their stock on a continental front. Roberto Mancini failed to make an impact in Europe’s elite club competition and Pellegrini hasn’t done much better, either.
With Pep Guardiola – who won the Champions League twice as boss at Barcelona - set to take the reins at the Etihad next campaign, Pellegrini will want to set the bar as high as possible for his successor and winning the Champions League is the only way to do so.
It’s difficult not to see Pellegrini fielding strong sides against both Chelsea and Kiev as he wants to go out with a bang and prove that he's been unfairly dismissed. Pellegrini will certainly not want to host Kiev in March trying to claw back a deficit, especially if they are still challenging for the domestic title.
Klopp and his men will be watching on, hoping City are involved in two grueling matches. Liverpool are out of the FA Cup, but they could certainly reap the rewards in the League Cup.
One would imagine that the Reds would see off Blackburn in the FA Cup. Although they made hard work of the tie last season in the sixth round, they’d likely learn from their mistakes.
Going into the quarter-finals of the FA Cup would also mean a distraction from the Europa League. With a Champions League spot available and also an adventure across Europe at stake, it’s likely to suspect what Liverpool fans would rather.
Can Liverpool with both the League Cup and Europa League? Have your say below!
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