Bookmakers are losing faith in Liverpool’s chances of doing a Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup treble this season amid Jurgen Klopp’s vow not to play any first team players in their replay with Shrewsbury.
A weakened Reds team blew a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 at New Meadow on Sunday, meaning the sides must battle it out again in the first week of February when Liverpool are due to be relaxing during the Premier League’s inaugural winter break.
Klopp has since confirmed he will not take charge of the replay and has told his first-team players to make their own plans that week, with Liverpool’s under-23s boss Neil Critchley set to take charge using Liverpool’s young prospects instead.
The move has attracted widespread criticism aimed at Klopp, but from a betting perspective it has also forced bookmakers to rejig the outright odds, with Liverpool moving from 5/1 to 9/1 in Betfair’s FA Cup winner market.
That means Liverpool are now behind Manchester City (11/8), Chelsea (11/2), Leicester (15/2), Tottenham (17/2) and even Manchester United (15/2) in the pecking order, having previously been second favourites behind holders City.
The decision to jeopardise Liverpool’s FA Cup hopes will not have gone down well with punters who have backed the relentless Reds to complete the aforementioned treble, something only Manchester United have managed in English football back in 1999.
Indeed, their odds to match that feat this season have now ballooned to 225/1 with Betfair, though Paddy Power go as short as 9/2 on them doing the Premier League (1/500) and Champions League (9/2) double.
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Klopp Both Criticised and Lauded
Klopp has been labelled “selfish” and a “disgrace” for allegedly disrespecting a competition generally held in high regard by the English football fraternity, but the German has the full backing of the club’s American owners and former Liverpool players.
“We know that Jurgen is quite unique with his approach, but I back him,” former Reds defender Phil Babb told Bookmakers.co.uk.
“We all know that the manager has got the eyes on the main prize – the Premier League title.
“Nothing is going to derail that. If you play your first team players when they’re supposed to be having a break, you can’t be sure that they won’t get injured.
“He’s not willing to risk that and I can see why. Plus I think he’s got enough faith in those boys to get the job done at Anfield and the atmosphere can help get them through the tie.
“He can tell the youngsters that this is a chance for them to repay his trust in them.”
Much of the irk directed at Klopp is coming from traditionalists who fear the FA Cup will suffer from a figure as highly regarded as him turning his nose up at the competition, but Babb insists it’s possible to both agree with the Liverpool’s manager’s decision and respect the tournament at the same time.
“It’s still a significant trophy, the oldest cup competition in football and it still creates drama season after season,” he said.
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“It’s a major domestic honour and I don’t think it has lost its appeal whatsoever. The introduction of 23-man squads and managers who like to rotate has had an impact – we now see clubs field weaker teams in the earlier rounds.
“But you never see a weakened team in the final, do you? Playing weakened sides is just a way of navigating the earlier rounds and sometimes it backfires, but it gives players experience.
“And if it doesn’t backfire and you end up in the quarter-finals, suddenly you see the big boys start to play because managers see the opportunity to win a trophy.”
Manchester City became the first English side to win a domestic treble last year – winning the Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup – and Babb believes manager Pep Guardiola has mastered the art of rotating his way through the early rounds before bedding in the star players.
“Pep Guardiola is a prime example,” he said. “He put a big demand on all of his players to win the domestic treble last season, the League Cup and FA Cup were very important to him.
“Ask Jose Mourinho if it’s important to win the FA Cup and he’ll say yes. Mauricio Pochettino would have loved to have won it for Spurs and I’m sure and Brendan Rodgers will have his eye on it for Leicester this year too.
“I don’t think it has lost its sparkle, top teams just take a different approach to the early rounds, none more so than Klopp.”
Replay Still Holds Significance
Klopp has also been criticised for failing to appreciate the value of a replay for their opponents Shrewsbury, who have taken the full allocation allowed for their visiting supporters to Anfield.
In a bid to avoid a low turn-out, Liverpool have reduced adult ticket prices for the replay to a maximum of £15, with various tickets prices available as much lower rates, and Babb appreciates the sentiment as Shrewsbury will be due their cut of the gate receipts.
He said: “It’s important to remember that every registered team from non-league up to the Premier League enter this competition, which is fantastic. It’s a great money spinner for the smaller clubs and a chance of silverware for the bigger clubs.”
A date and kick-off time for the replay will be confirmed in due course, but it is expected to be either on February 4th or 5th, and Babb is expecting another competitive cup game.
“It was just a bad day at the office for Liverpool,” he said of the 2-2 draw. “No disrespect to Shrewsbury, who kept going and looked strong and grew in confidence – fair play to them, they deserve credit and deserve a replay.
“Some of the younger Liverpool players looked a bit leg-heavy and the more senior players were a little rusty. It was an off night but some of them will have another chance to get the team through the tie at Anfield.”