Liverpool must be more like Chelsea and learn to love the cups

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Should City extend their lead this weekend by beating Arsenal, whichever side fails to win at Stamford Bridge on Sunday will feel they are too far behind Pep Guardiola’s side. Chelsea may be hosting Liverpool, but whatever the outcome City will be the weekend’s winners. City have dropped only ten points in their first 20 games and have already travelled to Stamford Bridge, Anfield, Old Trafford and Spurs. No wonder so many believe the race is run. It is already City’s to lose.

There is no way Liverpool or Chelsea will give up. Klopp will still believe his side can win at Stamford Bridge and the Etihad. If they fall short, there is no shame in doing so against the best and richest team in the world. There is not much consolation in it, either.

There is a broader lesson to learn, for Liverpool especially, when the margin for error in a title bid is so small. The club have to maximise their chances of winning all four competitions they enter every season, recognising the League Cup and the FA Cup as worthy prizes.

To put it simply, Liverpool need to become more like Chelsea.

In the past eleven seasons, Chelsea have won the Premier League twice (2015 and 2017). A good return, but a reflection of how the balance of power changed after the City Abu Dhabi takeover. In the previous six years, Chelsea were Premier League champions three times (2005, 2006 and 2010).

What they have done so well during the Roman Abramovich era is to become serial trophy collectors: five FA Cups, three league cups, two Europa League titles. That’s in addition to being Champions League winners twice.

The ambition has not changed at Stamford Bridge since they were the side everyone else was trying to catch in the mid-2000s. Chelsea will go into every season intending to compete for the Premier League and Champions League. But they have proven adept at lowering their sights to ensure different eras have maximum reward for the football produced.

That is an area where Liverpool can and must improve. Since winning the FA Cup in 2006, Liverpool have won only one domestic cup competition: the 2012 League Cup. That’s a poor return for a club of such stature.

The team Klopp inherited was close in the “lesser” competitions, losing the Europa League final and League Cup final in his first season in 2016. Since then there has been a sense of the League Cup and FA Cup being distractions, the main focus being on finishing in the top four or, more recently, saving the energy of star players for the Premier League and European Cup bids.

That is not a criticism. It is understandable, reflecting where the club have stood at different points in their recent history, and the need to target finishing in the top four. 

Klopp can justifiably argue that the resources available at Chelsea and Manchester City make it easier for them to target all four competitions. It is riskier for Liverpool to select key players in the domestic cups because their back-up players are not as strong. Fans and pundits will be unforgiving if a star picks up an injury in the early rounds of the Carabao Cup and his absence proves costly in a league the following weekend.

Now the circumstances are such that Liverpool have imminent opportunities to redress the balance and collect more trophies. It’s not about being defeatist with City already forging ahead; it’s about being realistic.

Given the state of the title race, the upcoming two-legged tie with Arsenal in the Carabao Cup is as important as any game this January. Klopp will be without his African Cup of Nations stars, but he can still pick a strong line-up and push for Liverpool’s first Wembley final in six years.

The FA Cup third round draw, at home to Shrewsbury Town, also presents an opportunity for comfortable progress by including more senior players, rather than playing an Under 23 side as in previous years.

The same applies to Chelsea, but they will be maintaining a tradition by retaining interest in the domestic cups until the latter stages. They have competed in five of the past six FA Cup finals.

When the Premier League is a step too far, Chelsea have shown there is nothing wrong with occasionally redefining themselves as a cup team. Liverpool need to get on board that Wembley bus to ensure the promise of another campaign packed with brilliant collective and individual performances does not go unfulfilled.

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