League Cup semi-final: Jurgen Klopp needs Liverpool silverware to shed nearly man tag

Richard Jolly previews the League Cup semi-final second leg between Liverpool and Southampton.

Jurgen Klopp took Loverpiil to two cup finals last season, losing both. Julian Finney / Getty Images
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When the votes were tallied up for Fifa’s Coach of the Year award for 2016, Jurgen Klopp came seventh.

Not bad considering Liverpool had only finished eighth in the Premier League, but it was more of a reflection of reaching two cup finals and their stellar start to this season. At this embryonic stage, it is safe to say Klopp is not one of the front-runners for the 2017 award.

Liverpool have won only once in this calendar year, and even that was against League Two side Plymouth Argyle in the FA Cup, and only after a replay.

They have lost as often in three weeks as they did in the first half of the season. Their title challenge is in effect over, according to their newest academy coach and, perhaps more significantly, their legendary captain Steven Gerrard.

They could exit a second competition in five days on Wednesday. Yet it is hard to imagine Klopp, who invariably projects positivity, coming up with such a downbeat assessment. Because there is also a chance to reach a third final out of four during his reign and to set up what would almost certainly prove a date at Wembley Stadium with Manchester United next month.


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Liverpool host Southampton with a one-goal deficit and having failed to score in both meetings with Claude Puel’s team this season.

Yet Southampton could go to Anfield without what was until recently their premier central-defensive partnership. Jose Fonte has been sold and Virgil van Dijk is a doubt with an ankle injury.

In contrast, Liverpool should finally welcome back their finest defender to their starting 11. Fifa belatedly ruled that Joel Matip, who retired from international duty in 2015, should not be ineligible during the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon). He made a late cameo in Saturday’s defeat to Swansea City, but as an emergency striker.

Liverpool have spent much of this year depleted. “With the injuries we had, it was difficult to come through a very intense period,” Klopp said.

Now they have solitary absentee, a man who links these two clubs. The evidence is mounting that Sadio Mane is irreplaceable; Liverpool have only scored four goals in five games since he left to represent Senegal at the Afcon. With no natural deputy on the right, someone else has to play out of position.

Liverpool have not been as fast or as fluent in his absence. They were surprisingly stodgy at St Mary’s two weeks ago, when the 1-0 scoreline flattered them in the first leg. Besides avoiding a heavier defeat, the sole bright spot was Philippe Coutinho’s half-hour appearance. Now nearer full fitness, a man who scores a disproportionate amount of his goals in big games assumes an added importance.

The Brazilian seems set to be offered a new contract. Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain are reportedly interested. Klopp’s Liverpool exude both unity and a sense of a brighter future. It is an impression that would be dented were the jewel in their crown plucked.

The departures of Fernando Torres, Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling proved profitable as Liverpool have brought in the most money of any European club since 2010 in sales, but they scarcely suggested they remain a destination club. They have that statistical distinction but a solitary trophy in a decade. It is one reason why the League Cup matters. So, too, is Klopp’s recent record.

He has been the much-admired nearly man, taking Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund to the brink of success time and again since he won his second Bundesliga title in 2012. The journey tends to be fun, obscuring the reality that the destination is not always the desired one.

For 2017 to be better than 2016, for Klopp to secure more votes this year than last, Liverpool require the sort of statement silverware offers.

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