Liverpool knew that they must start their four game away stretch with a win. In just 10 days, Liverpool traveled north to Sunderland on the 30th, down to London to visit West Ham on the 2nd, back north to Stoke on the 5th for the Capital One Cup semifinal and then travel southwest to face Exeter City in the FA Cup on the 8th, before finally heading back to Anfield for games against Arsenal and Manchester United on the 17th and 23rd. I don’t know who Liverpool upset in the afterlife, but that is an incredibly tough stretch for any team.
Anyway, while it wasn’t the prettiest performance, Liverpool defeated Sunderland 1-0 at the Stadium of Light, in a performance that was eerily similar to Liverpool’s game against Leicester on Boxing Day. Both games resulted in 1-0 Liverpool wins. Both games involved a Christian Benteke goal to get the win. And last, but not least, both games involved an insane lack of finishing by Benteke in stoppage that should have closed out the game if he had scored.
But anyway, looking at the Sunderland game, Liverpool got their big chance to score just 20 seconds after the second half started. A slight Adam Lallana flick from Roberto Firmino’s pass set up Benteke and Liverpool enjoyed three points. As a result, Liverpool is in 7th place, tied with Manchester United for 6th (United has tiebreaker), and just a point away from Crystal Palace in 5th and five points behind Tottenham in 4th.
This win was vary important as Liverpool enters this horrific stretch of games. Even the most optimistic person knows that Liverpool cannot possibly win all four games. So the question comes, which do you sacrifice for the greater good? Do you go for the points against West Ham or do you go for the cups against Stoke and Exeter City?
If I am Jurgen Klopp, I go for the points. You are already knocking on the door of the top four, you cannot possibly give up that momentum of two clean sheets to go for the Capital One Cup. Also, Liverpool has some room for error in the Cup games. The Capital One Cup is over two legs so if worse came to worse, Liverpool could play some reserves and do a bit of damage control and go for it on the second leg at Anfield. And as for Exeter City, the 16th place team in League 2, play the reserves and play the youngsters. That’s why they’re there and if they can’t beat Exeter City, Liverpool doesn’t really deserve to stay in the FA Cup anyway.
Doing this will then give many of Liverpool’s starters a much needed break as they enter the back to back games at Arsenal and Manchester United at Anfield. If Liverpool wants to maximize their results after playing in all of these games, this is the best strategy. It most likely won’t be 100% successful. There will certainly be something that will be given up, maybe not even by choice. The key is to know that this is a tough stretch for anyone. So if Liverpool seems to struggle, don’t act as if the sky is falling…yet.