It was a thrilling game at Anfield for the fans and neutrals.
Liverpool have been the headline creators in chief over the past few months.
Champions League winners a few months ago and on a run of Premier League form that is bordering on the obscene, Jurgen Klopp’s side are, judging by both statistics and performances, the best going around – certainly in England and arguably further afield as well – at this moment in time.
But it is their decision to field a particularly youthful team in their FA Cup fourth round replay against Shrewsbury earlier this week which has been occupying the column inches.
And more specifically, Klopp’s decision to not be present at the game due to the winter break has stirred up plenty of debate.
There has been some in favour of the German’s decision but the majority, certainly from what I’ve seen, hasn’t been overly complimentary.
Of course there has been the all-too tiresome yet familiar ‘it’s football so it’s fair game’ abuse – a player with a hew haircut would get the same so it really is best to take all of this with a hefty pinch of salt – but there has also been a substantial amount of more measured comment.
This is from pundits as well as those in the stands, regarding Klopp’s absence as being disrespectful.
Search ‘Klopp disrespect’ on Google and you’ll be offered a wide choice of opinion that holds no store in the Liverpool managers’ actions in relation to the Football Association’s flagship competition.
Well, it used to be and that is where this whole outpouring of opprobrium loses its impact. Exactly what is Klopp showing disrespect towards?
Teams throughout the divisions, not just the top flight which inevitably attracts the attention, but also much lower down the pyramid, routinely field much-altered line-ups for cup games.
The use of replays now stops after round four owing to the overcrowded calendar.
The final no longer brings the curtain down on the domestic season and Premier League fixtures have been played on the same day.
Attendances aren’t at the same level as league matches.
These are the most visible but there are other contributory factors which have, in their own way, led to the sheen not being as bright as it once was.
It still matters and all the talk of clubs needing silverware to justify their financial outlay will see that this remains the case, but don’t for a moment think that it will ever return to former glories. In very simple terms, there is far too much money at stake for clubs to throw their lot in for a tilt at FA Cup success.
Ask 20 Premier League chairmen if they would take a successful day out at Wembley and relegation from the top table and 19 of them would answer in the negative. And the one who doesn’t would be lying.
Huddersfield finished bottom of the division in the 2018-19 season and their take home from television income and prize money was just shy of £95m.
Ask any manager in the Championship if they would rather win the cup or claim promotion and the aforementioned paragraph will provide the answer.
If, for example, Tottenham or Arsenal miss out on the top four and a Champions League spot, with all its accompanying riches, but put a trophy in the boardroom cabinet any joy at the latter will be tempered by disappointment at the former.
Liverpool aren’t going to be relegated and will almost certainly be in the hat for the draw in Europe’s main competition but these prizes carry more prestige and more financial clout and that is the reality of the sport.
The FA Cup may need to revamped be retain relevance and the absence of replays for the rest of this season’s competition would indicate this is already underway but that Klopp wasn’t at Anfield on Tuesday evening is neither here nor there. He has his staff and, as it panned out, they are more than capable.
The footballing landscape provides, wherever you’re viewing it from, enough worthy ammunition for criticism and any disrespect towards the cup, if that’s what it actually is, is being shown across the board. One man missing from a dugout is not the target.