Ian Rush: Liverpool Fans Are Overdue A Trip To Wembley
The League Cup has been a great way for Liverpool to get their talented youngsters some experience but there is a big opportunity to get to Wembley now, which is something the supporters really want.
Thursday’s first leg against Arsenal has a lot of promise but a lot will depend on what sort of teams Jurgen Klopp and Mikel Arteta put out. It’ll come down to who’s available, but I think Klopp will play a strong team if he has senior players available because it’s a semi-final at the end of the day.
I’ll be interested to see who Klopp picks in goal. Alisson Becker is clearly the best keeper at the club, but Caoimhin Kelleher has done really well when he’s been called upon and maybe he deserves to retain the faith of the manager.
He was the hero of the penalty shoot-out win against Leicester and has performed well in both the Premier League and FA Cup as well this season. For me, Kelleher has done enough to earn his start and I expect Klopp will feel the same so I think we’ll see him get the nod again.
Either way, I’m just glad Klopp is back on the touchline because I was worried ahead of the Shrewsbury game when at one stage it looked as though neither he nor Pep Lijnders were going to be able to take charge, and that could have been really dangerous for a young side.
Thankfully, Klopp was able to partake in what was a comprehensive win over Shrewsbury, and it was a great experience for the younger players to get to perform in front of a full house at Anfield too.
Looking at the team Arteta put out against Nottingham Forest at the weekend, it wasn’t the strongest side available to him and he got a bit of criticism for it, but I think he’ll overcome that.
As I said in a previous column, Arteta is doing a great job and I like how he has handled the situation with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of late, it shows what he’s made of. So I won’t be reading too much into their FA Cup exit ahead of the opening leg of the League Cup semis.
With Chelsea already in the final, Liverpool don’t want to be losing to either of these two rivals. They’re both good teams but I think it’s a really good opportunity for Klopp to add some silverware to his Liverpool CV and you want to do that by beating the top sides.
Wijnaldum Transfer Rumours
I notice Gini Wijnaldum being linked with a move to Arsenal this week and I can see why, it makes sense. He’s an experienced midfielder and became a really valuable player in Klopp’s Liverpool side and I had hoped he would stay at the club beyond last summer.
In hindsight, it looks as though he would have been better off staying at Liverpool, but he chose to take up the offer from Paris Saint-Germain and as we see all too often the grass is not always greener on the other side.
He’s not playing regularly in Paris but he’d definitely get more game time at Arsenal, who could use a bit of experience to complement what is already a good but young side. That little bit of extra experience would add something to their midfield.
They could face some competition from Gini’s old club Newcastle though, who have a new-found wealth, and a lot of football decisions come down to money these days. If he does end up going back to Newcastle, you’d have to assume he’s only going there for financial reasons because they look like they’ll be playing Championship football next season.
Arsenal would be a much better move for him in my opinion, even if it’s on lesser wages. They’re really going for the top four and they’re still in the hunt for a trophy. But if Gini has both options it will come down to either a football decision or a financial decision.
Coutinho Back in the Premier League
It didn’t surprise me at all to see Steven Gerrard go in for his old team-mate Philippe Coutinho early in the January transfer window and I can’t wait to see him back in action in the Premier League.
He’s a quality player who just seems to have lost his confidence over the past couple of years. We never wanted him to leave Liverpool but he’s Brazilian and probably grew up dreaming of playing for Barcelona.
He achieved that dream, and although it didn’t work out too well for him I still think there’s a great player in there somewhere and Aston Villa could well be the right club to help him rediscover his form.
It’s a great move for both parties. Villa are ambitious again and Gerrard will likely try to use Coutinho in a similar role to the one he carried out so well during their time together at Liverpool. Knowing Stevie as I do, he will plan to get Coutinho on the ball as much as possible and I’d love to see him prove to the whole world that he’s still as good as he was at Liverpool.
People forget that he’s only 29, so he really should be in his prime. I see the prime age bracket now as 29 to 31 but not all players are the same. Physically, he should be in better condition than ever so if Gerrard can just help him rediscover his confidence then I think he’s pulled off a real coup there.
Harvey Elliot on the Mend
I was pleased to hear Jurgen Klopp give a positive update on Harvey Elliot’s recovery from the absolute horror injury he suffered against Leeds in September and the news that he is close to a return to first team training is very welcome.
Elliot made a fantastic start to the season and was so unfortunate to suffer that injury, but I think he’s at an age where the body can get over serious injuries a lot quicker than someone in their mid to late 20s for example.
He’s still only 18 but he’s very determined and I know that his whole life is Liverpool Football Club. I’ve spoken with both him and his Dad and they’re obsessed with Liverpool, they’ve been supporters all their lives. So there will be no one more determined to get back on track at the club than Harvey Elliot.
He’ll be putting everything he has in to getting back to full fitness and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he recovers ahead of schedule because he’s so desperate to play for the club.
Thinking about it, he was probably Liverpool’s best player in the early stages of the season before his injury. But I do believe he’ll come back a better player because all you can do is learn from bad experiences and I’ve no doubt he’ll be back in the side before long, but it’s just one step at a time for now.
VAR was a big talking point over the course of the FA Cup weekend and I have to say I agree completely with those who put forward the argument that it should be all or nothing when it comes to using the technology in specific tournaments.
You shouldn’t have VAR in some stadiums and not in others if everyone is playing in the same competition. It just creates problems everywhere and given how big the FA Cup is for some clubs, it’s a shame to see some of the smaller teams not get the right decisions.
Even in the grounds where they did have VAR, last weekend just confirmed that we’re still nowhere near where we want to be with it. Some of the decision-making is confusing and the inconsistencies are frustrating.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some good qualities about VAR, but only when it’s used in a sensible way. I know a lot of people would rather we just did away with it altogether at this stage, but I don’t see that happening, I think it’s here to stay. Too much time and money has been invested into it for the whole thing to be aborted, but there’s a lot of room for improvement.
One Eye on AFCON
I haven’t seen as much of the Africa Cup of Nations as I would have liked so far, but I’m not going to be put off by the lack of goals. There’s been a lot of 1-0 wins including mixed fortunes for Mo Salah and Sadio Mane, but I think Covid is playing a big part in team selection and not everyone is able to field their best XIs.
That said, major international tournaments tend to take a few rounds of games to really get going and the group stages can sometimes see a lot of teams cancel each other out, because if you lose your first game it’s a disaster. When it gets to the knockout stages I think AFCON will really catch fire.
Defining Weekend in Title Race
It’s Manchester City against Chelsea on Saturday afternoon and no doubt Liverpool fans will be glued to this one. It’s tricky to find an outcome that suits Liverpool but in my opinion I’d prefer a Chelsea win because it gives Liverpool a chance to reel City back in too.
Whatever the result, Liverpool still have to go and beat Brentford – which is no formality – but if Chelsea beat City and then Liverpool win on Sunday then I think the title race looks a whole lot more interesting.
There’s still a long way to go, don’t forget, and this weekend could open things up again. On the other hand, if City win and Liverpool fail to beat Brentford, then it’s game over unfortunately. On that basis, it’s a huge weekend for the title race, so let’s see how things pan out.
Liverpool’s last meeting with Brentford didn’t quite go to plan, it ended up 3-3 but Brentford played really well that day in fairness to them. It’s always difficult to play newly promoted teams at the start of the season because they’re always really up for it and want to prove that they belong in the top tier.
But sometimes, as the season wears on, it can become more difficult for the new teams to sustain that momentum and they start to find out how difficult the Premier League really is. We saw a bit of that in Brentford’s 4-1 defeat to Southampton on Tuesday.
Maybe Premier League life is starting to take its toll on Brentford now as they’ve lost three of their last four, although they did have a good win over Aston Villa earlier this month. They’ve got a fair few points on the board already so they’re not in any immediate danger, but they can still get relegated so they’ll be looking over their shoulder.
Liverpool are without Salah and Mane so Brentford will definitely see this as an opportunity to pick up some points, but I think Liverpool should still be too strong for Brentford especially as it’s at Anfield.
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