Liverpool's focus is Premier League success, they are better off out of Carabao Cup
Liverpool failed to win a game for the first time this season when they conceded two late goals in a Carabao Cup loss to Chelsea in midweek and the defeat sparked some debate among supporters.
For some, the result is a significant blow to Liverpool's bid to win much needed silverware this year -- there are only four trophies to fight for and that is now down to three for the Reds. Others, however, believe that no longer being in the Carabao Cup increases the chances of winning one of the bigger prizes. Nobody wanted to lose, but some can see a silver lining.
Since 2006, Liverpool have won only one trophy: the Carling (now known as Carabao) Cup in 2012. Without that, we'd be taking about a 12 year run with no trophies at all -- almost unthinkable for a club with Liverpool's history of success.
So when people say the Reds (and specifically Jurgen Klopp) need to win a trophy, any trophy, and that the Carabao Cup was a great opportunity, it's difficult to argue with the logic. Yet argue I will.
It might not sit well with everybody, but Liverpool are better off being out of the Carabao Cup. In the past (and no doubt the future) it's not a view I would normally hold, but this year is the exception.
All of Liverpool's eggs should be in the Premier League basket this season because they genuinely could win the title. They aren't favourites and it certainly won't be easy, but they have a better chance than they've had in a long time. For them to do it though, they'll need to be almost perfect in the league as Manchester City's quality means the margin for error is smaller than ever before.
Every point could be vital and the small details could prove crucial. Is it realistic to think that Liverpool could have gone all the way in the Carabao Cup while not having to compromise even in some small way in the Premier League? No.
Let's say Liverpool had beaten Chelsea on Wednesday night. What would that have meant? For starters it would have meant a cup game just days before a trip to Arsenal in the league. No big deal you might think ... the squad is big enough to deal with that and a kind draw may even have allowed Klopp to rest all of his starters rather than just the nine who were left out against Chelsea.
If they were to advance further, the quarterfinal would have been sandwiched in between a home game with Manchester United and a difficult trip to Wolves. The semifinal first leg would be bookended by an FA Cup tie and a trip to Brighton, while the second leg comes immediately after a home game with Crystal Palace and just before the FA Cup fourth round.
If Liverpool had reached the final they would have had to face Watford a few days later and would also have needed to reschedule a home game with Manchester United for later in the season, which would cause even further congestion.
Fielding the second string all the way through isn't an option. When you get to the latter stages you have to take the competition seriously, so it's naive to think that wouldn't have had a detrimental impact on Liverpool's Premier League results.
It would be safe to assume that Virgil van Dijk, Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, Andy Robertson and the rest of Liverpool's key men would have featured had Liverpool continued to progress. They can't play every game though, so maybe they sit out a league game immediately before or after a cup tie? That's assuming they didn't pick up an injury in those cup games of course, which is always a possibility.
We saw at the back end of last season the effect on Liverpool's domestic results when Champions League commitments took priority. They were widely regarded as the second best team in the country last year, yet they finished fourth. Several points were dropped in games when Klopp needed to rest his starters.
Yes, the squad is now stronger, but it's not yet strong enough that supporters could feel just as confident about playing games with half of their second string on the field. If Van Dijk or Salah had to sit out even one Premier League game, is that worth the risk when the stakes are so high this year?
It's not just about who is rested and who isn't either. Midweek games interrupt the training and preparation for the weekend.
Even when players are rested in midweek, the manager still needs to prepare for the game and tailor his training sessions accordingly. With a free week he can focus solely on the league game at the weekend. With a midweek game there is very little he can do in preparation for the weekend.
Liverpool's task this year is difficult enough due to their Champions League commitments. Having to also juggle Carabao Cup ties would have only harmed their prospects in the league. It might have ended with the Carabao Cup in the trophy cabinet, but at what cost?
If even so much as one Premier League point were to be dropped due to Liverpool progressing in the Carabao Cup, then quite simply they are better off having lost to Chelsea.
That won't always be the case, and the Carabao Cup is still important, but until Liverpool end their title drought (and as long as they are still in with a realistic shot of winning it), their league fixtures have to take priority over everything. Including even the Champions League.