League Cup success would give Liverpool squad winning habit – and their 'minimum' achievement

Kelleher, Liverpool
(Image credit: Getty Images)

A little over a year ago, Jurgen Klopp was on the verge of tears as he admitted that Liverpool’s title hopes were over in mid-February. “I can’t believe it, but yes,” he said when asked after defeat away to Leicester City.

Liverpool had 30 points fewer than at the same stage in their title-winning season the year before. They’d exited the FA Cup to Man United, the League Cup on penalties to Arsenal, and had just lost their last three games at Anfield after having gone 68 matches unbeaten. They would go on to lose six home league games in a row for the first time in their top-flight history.

It was a dark time at Anfield, merely seven months after lifting the Premier League trophy aloft it was looking extremely unlikely they’d even qualify for the following season’s Champions League. 

The contrast could not have been starker to the year before that in February when they’d moved to within four wins of that first league title in 30 years. Football is a rollercoaster.

And now, the Reds are back on a high, with Jurgen Klopp’s side going into Sunday’s League Cup Final against Chelsea after nine straight wins in all competitions; scoring 25 goals and conceding just three in the process.

Winning habit

Sunday will be the seventh final Liverpool have contested under Klopp’s leadership, with the first having been in the same competition in the first six months of his time at Anfield, eventually suffering defeat to Manchester City on penalties.

City have won the last four League Cups to equal Liverpool’s record of eight victories in the competition, so this is an opportunity for Liverpool to get back on their League Cup perch.

Of course, Liverpool have won the European Cup more times than any English club and they are also now into a title race with City – winning that would put them well and truly ‘back on their perch’ and equalling Man United’s 20 titles.

So while the League Cup may not be the most prestigious of competitions and is the lowest priority for Klopp this and every season, it does represent a good opportunity to add silverware early in the campaign, and thus drive on the team to further success.

“We enjoy it,” said Klopp last week, referring to being in all four competitions still at this stage of the season. “The situation, we see as an opportunity. We never had it before.”

While nobody at Anfield is talking of potential quadruples (not yet anyway), it does provide a tantalising base to get that winning feeling under the belt early in the season, just as Man City have in the last four years.

The last time Liverpool won multiple cups in one season was in the treble-cup winning season of 2000/01, under Gerard Houllier’s leadership. A penalty shootout win in the League Cup began that success.

“Gerard said that the first would be the most important,” recalled the then-assistant manager Phil Thompson recently. “We had to get over the line, that would be the start. He wanted the players to look at the occasion and feel it, all of the emotions.”

Of course, this current Liverpool squad aren’t seeking to get over the line for their first-ever trophy as the squad of 2001 was, they’re the most successful Liverpool squad of the last 30 years after winning the title and Champions League in the last three seasons.

Nonetheless, a winning habit is a nice habit to have.

Squad expectations

Liverpool have used 29 players en route to the final and one of those to be rewarded with a starting place on Sunday is young goalkeeper Caoimhin Keller. The 23-year-old Irishman is the Reds’ second-choice behind Alisson but Klopp has no qualms about starting him at Wembley.

“These games are his competition and there’s no chance of him not playing,” confirmed Klopp this week, showing again that he’s a manger who players can trust and has principles - an ethos that flows through the whole club as a result.

Klopp added: “If – a big if – we win the competition then it’s a competition really for the whole club and especially for the academy as well because we used players from the under 18s, we obviously used players from the under 23s.”

The manager went on to namecheck teenagers Kaide Gordon, Tyler Morton and Conor Bradley. The trio are unlikely to be involved at Wembley, but they will know their worth, Klopp will ensure as much. Winning the League Cup would be reward for all those youngsters who have played their part in getting there and it further underlines the pathway they have to the first team at Anfield

It would also be the first silverware of their Liverpool careers for Diogo Jota, Thiago and new signing Luis Diaz. Again, it creates the winning mentality for the short and long term.

There is a feeling among some Liverpool supporters that this squad under Klopp should have more trophies by its name. In a different era, they would have - but the timing of coming up against a mega-rich Man City is like Andy Murray being up against Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer.

Put Murray in his prime years in the nineties and he’d have won every major multiple times. Put this Liverpool squad in the nineties or noughties and they’d have won significantly more than they have so far.

Asked about this recently, Trent Alexander-Arnold claimed that the players don’t feel disappointed, insisting – at least publicly – that “We feel the trophies we have won are the biggest and the best you can get your hands on.”

That’s true, but adding silverware of any type to a player’s collection is always a good thing and he knows the squad want more. “There is an expectation now as a team to win trophies” added the influential full-back.”I think one trophy a season is the minimum we need to be achieving.

“We are not in that phase now where we are happy just to get to finals and it is a little bit of a surprise and a day out.”

For the supporters, it will be a ‘day out’ to Wembley - the first trip there for a final since 2016. If it goes to penalties again, wouldn’t it be a story for young Kelleher to be the hero again, just as he was in the quarter-final against Leicester.

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Matt Ladson is the co-founder and editor of This Is Anfield, the independent Liverpool news and comment website, and covers all areas of the Reds for FourFourTwo – including transfer analysis, interviews, title wins and European trophies. As well as writing about Liverpool for FourFourTwo he also contributes to other titles including Yahoo and Bleacher Report. He is a lifelong fan of the Reds.