Klopp's kids can help keep Liverpool's quadruple dream alive

Liverpool manager says winning League Cup with a squad largely comprised of academy graduates and missing the likes of Mohamed Salah was 'most special' of his career

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, centre, hugs goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher and defender Conor Bradley after the 1-0 victory over Chelsea in the League Cup final. Getty
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Jurgen Klopp described Sunday's League Cup final triumph as the "most special" of his trophy-laden coaching career.

The 1-0 win over Chelsea in extra time to secure the League Cup – the second of his Liverpool reign – was achieved without several first-team regulars, most notably Mohamed Salah, fellow strikers Darwin Nunez and Diogo Jota, defender Trent Alexander-Arnold and goalkeeper Alisson Becker.

An early injury to midfielder Ryan Gravenberch made the prospect of overcoming Chelsea's expensively assembled squad even more daunting, but a group of academy products, already dubbed "Klopp's Kids" stepped up to the plate to help secure a deserved win thanks to Virgil van Dijk's late header.

Conor Bradley, age 20 and playing only his 17th first-team game, started nominally at right-back but has shown already he has the skill and passing range to slot comfortably into defender-cum-midfield hybrid role popularised by the player he was deputising for, Alexander-Arnold.

Though fatigue may have forced Klopp's hand, the German had no qualms about turning to the exuberance of youth, throwing a pair of 19-year-olds in Bobby Clark and James McConnell into midfield and asking Jayden Danns, 18, to lead the attack as the match headed for extra time. The trio of tyros boasted a combined 17 first-team games between them.

With Ibrahima Konate on a yellow card, Klopp entrusted centre-back Jarell Quansah, who at 21 and with 19 Liverpool games under his belt could be considered the older statesman of that quintet, for the second period of extra time.

It's easy to forget that Harvey Elliott, who played the entire 120 minutes, is still only 20, too.

"In more than 20 years it is easily the most special trophy I have ever won. It is absolutely exceptional," Klopp said.

"Sometimes people ask me if I'm proud of things and it's really tricky, I wish I could feel pride more often but tonight is an overwhelming feeling.

"I was proud of everyone involved in everything here. I was proud of our academy, I was proud of my coaches, I was proud of so many things. It was completely overwhelming."

Asked when he knew Liverpool's cadre of rookies were ready to step up on the big stage, Klopp said: "Obviously age is not a problem at all. It was clear in training, these were the boys we would take [to the final]. We needed fresh legs."

The Kids from the Kop certainly point to a bright future long after Klopp leaves at the end of the season. They also offer plenty of optimism in the short-term.

Liverpool's unprecedented quadruple bid in 2022 ended with two trophies won but they lost out to Manchester City in the Premier League and to Real Madrid in the Champions League final.

Klopp's class of 2024 may be inferior in terms of personnel and experience but, with Salah and Co still to return, the path to a four-trophy haul is arguably easier.

A fifth-round FA Cup tie against second-tier Southampton on Wednesday is infinitely winnable while a last-16 double header against Sparta Prague in the Europa League is another Liverpool will be expected to navigate without too much concern. While the likes of AC Milan, Benfica and Villarreal remain in the competition, they remain a rung below the teams left in the Champions League.

A one-point lead over Manchester City, themselves focused on repeating last season's treble success, at the top of the Premier League is hardly comfortable but having lost only twice in the league all season, Liverpool are well placed to push Pep Guardiola's side all the way in the title race.

With one trophy already secured, talk of a fairytale ending to Klopp's time at Liverpool – he will leave Anfield at the end of the season – with a quadruple will inevitably gather pace.

The German, however, dismissed any idea of making his final few months in charge about him.

"I couldn't care less about my legacy. I'm not here for that. It had nothing to do with maybe my last game at Wembley," Klopp said after Sunday's final.

"It was about seeing the faces of the kids. For me it's a really nice memory forever."

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Updated: February 27, 2024, 9:04 AM