Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has cruelly soured Shrewsbury's FA Cup moment by 'going on strike' for replay

David Lynch
Getty Images

Sunday night should have been all about Shrewsbury Town and one of the finest results in the club’s 134-year history.

Liverpool may have made changes, but this was still the reigning European champions being pegged back by League One opposition who had been given a mountain to climb at two goals down.

It was also much-needed proof - for those so keen to find it - that the FA Cup remains capable of producing that oft-referenced ‘magic’.

Unfortunately, a fantastic cup tie at New Meadow was followed by Jurgen Klopp using his post-match media briefing to deliver a bombshell that served only to relegate the Shrews’ achievement to the margins.

Speaking to reporters, the German revealed that a team comprised exclusively of young players will contest the sides’ resulting fourth-round replay, with U23s boss Neil Critchley in line to take his place in the dugout.

According to Klopp, that controversial step is necessary so that his first-team squad can take full advantage of the newly-introduced Premier League winter break, which would otherwise have been interrupted by that FA Cup rematch with Shrewsbury.

As he explained: "In April 2019 we got a letter from the Premier League, I think, where they asked us to respect the winter break and not to organise international friendlies or competitive games. We respect that.

"So I said to the boys already two weeks ago that we will have a winter break which means we will not be there. It will be the kids who play that game."

Playing the kids: Klopp intends to 'respect' the winter break (PA)

In fairness to the Liverpool manager, he is nothing if not consistent in his criticism of the English football calendar, and to schedule fourth-round replays for a week that had been designated for ‘rest’ is, quite frankly, madness.

But so, too, is Klopp’s decision to embark on what feels like a thoroughly personal crusade against fixture congestion in this manner.

Whenever there is a greater share of television revenue to be grasped, we hear plenty about the lobbying power possessed by clubs like Liverpool.

It is in those moments that thinly veiled threats regarding the formation of a European super league tend to surface, and are then swiftly followed by surrender from Uefa or the Premier League.

Magic of the cup: Shrewsbury fought back from 2-0 down to force an unlikely replay (Action Images via Reuters)

Yet, for some reason, when it comes to the issue of fixture congestion, it has been left to the manager to come up with a solution that, on the face of it, does not seem to tally with his sporting needs.

For starters, it makes no sense for Klopp’s commitment to giving his players time off to extend to his entire squad, as he insisted would be the case on Sunday evening.

Fabinho, Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip made much-needed starts in Shropshire having recently returned from injury, and are unlikely to get the chance to pick up further minutes until the replay comes around.

The same goes for Naby Keita - named on the bench in this fixture - as well as Xherdan Shaqiri and James Milner, who are finally closing in on full fitness themselves.

In hastily ruling these players out of the replay, it feels like Klopp is simply cutting his nose off to spite his face so as to ensure that the FA do not miss his point.

Of course, the German’s decision to effectively go on strike will not have been taken without the consent of the club’s owners Fenway Sports Group, with whom he enjoys a close working relationship.

But it is only fair to ask why, if both parties saw this problem coming a long time ago, Klopp’s superiors have not done more at their end in order to ensure compromise could be reached.

There isn’t a Premier League club in existence who wouldn’t vote to move at least one of those pesky festive fixtures to the many free midweeks found elsewhere in the season in order to ease the problems exacerbated by the FA Cups early rounds.

"Shrewsbury’s moment in the sun is likely to be overshadowed by a superclub desperate to position itself as a casualty in football’s power struggle."

So why aren’t Liverpool chiefs regularly lobbying their fellow executives on that matter seeing as it is so important to their manager?

And if the Reds, like so many other clubs, are determined to have cup replays scrapped, why are they shying away from a threat to withdraw from the competition entirely?

If, as Klopp so often declares, this is truly about player welfare, then he would surely have little issue with taking that route?

That said, Liverpool manager has done little to support that particular facet of his argument in inexplicably declaring that he will join his players in taking a winter break.

One thing is for certain, Shrewsbury boss Sam Ricketts deserves better than to be greeted by the club’s U23s boss on the Anfield touchline next week.

The same goes for his players, who fought hard to earn their replay and a chance to once again go up against a team managed by Klopp.

Instead, Shrewsbury’s moment in the sun is likely to be overshadowed by a superclub desperate to position itself as a casualty in football’s power struggle.

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