Kenny taking the League Cup seriously, like Bob did

BOB PAISLEY was Liverpool’s manager for nine seasons and in every single one of those seasons the club won a piece of silverware.  The only major trophy to elude him was the FA Cup but that wasn’t through lack of trying. His first season was the least successful, Liverpool finishing runners-up in the league (two points behind Derby County) and the only silverware won was the Charity Shield right at the beginning of the season, in a game that saw Bill Shankly lead Liverpool out for the last time, three months after announcing his retirement as boss. Paisley would guide his men to another four victories in the season’s traditional curtain-raiser, as well as another one shared in the days when penalty shoot-outs weren out of favour for domestic fixtures.

That second-placed finish meant Liverpool went into the UEFA Cup the following season, the last time they would during Bob’s reign, and they won it. They also won the league, as they did in all but two of the seasons that followed until Bob retired; six league titles in all. The title in 1976 saw the Reds qualify for the European Cup, and as well as winning the league they would end the 1976-77 season winning ‘Old Big Ears’ for the first time on a famous night in Rome. And those two seasons without a league title, in 1978 and 1981, were made up for by Bob guiding his men to the club’s second and third European Cup triumphs. There was also time to bring home the European Super Cup in 1977.

When Bob arrived as manager Liverpool had never won the League Cup, a competition that had first been contested in 1960, and it wasn’t until 1981 that Bob got Liverpool’s name on the trophy. The competition became The Milk Cup the following season – and Liverpool won it again. In all Bob won it three times, in his last three seasons, before Joe Fagan came in and made it four in a row for the Reds (as part of a treble including the league title and the European Cup).

Liverpool took the competition seriously at this time, but then again so did all the other league clubs. It wasn’t until the beginning of the Premier League that certain clubs started to take the tournament less seriously, fielding much weakened sides safe in the knowledge that there wouldn’t be any punishment for doing so.

There were still complaints from certain managers until eventually a decision was made to give teams involved in European competition a bye to the third round. The change was made because of complaints about players having to play too many games – yet even after the change those same managers would use their fringe players or members of their youth squads, not the players they were using in European or league matches.

The final used to be in April, and although never quite having the prestige of the FA Cup it was still a big occasion and offered a chance to lift some silverware in the same place that the FA Cup would be lifted a month later. Nowadays the final is in February and only seems to be held in that same place because of the financial need for that place to stage a vast number of events, even FA Cup semi-finals, each year.

Carling announced they wouldn’t be renewing their sponsorship of the competition next season and it was hardly a surprise to hear that. The trophy that players were proud to win has been rapidly growing into the trophy that is less welcome than a 39th game. That much was demonstrated when it came to working out the schedule for this season’s quarter finals.

The only two dates on offer for the four games were tonight and tomorrow night. The police didn’t want either of the London ties to be played tomorrow because of the planned industrial action, so both games had to be moved to Tuesday. At least that’s what the football authorities said, refusing to consider any other date.

Liverpool and Manchester City played each other late on Sunday at Anfield and then both had to play their quarter finals two days later down in London. A request went in to play the league game a day earlier – it had only been moved to the Sunday for the sake of television. The answer that came back was that it wouldn’t be moved, the game had to be played on the Sunday.

Had Liverpool lost the last round it would have been Stoke in the quarters instead, and Stoke are involved in the Europa League and would have had a game on Thursday. Had that been the case the Football League would have had no option but to move the game from Tuesday to another week – but they refused to help Liverpool or Manchester City by doing that. Liverpool are believed to have asked for the League Cup game to be played on Thursday – and believed to have had this request turned down too.

The decision has seen managers of both Liverpool and Manchester City vent their annoyance – Dalglish suggested fans shouldn’t buy tickets and Mancini said it was little wonder England have so many problems in international football – but all of this falls on deaf ears where the powers-that-be are concerned.

Less than 24 hours after contesting a match against the league leaders Liverpool were on a train to the capital, their usual pre- and post-match routines thrown out of the window in an attempt to show some respect to a competition its own organisers seem more than happy to see lose yet more dignity and credibility. Liverpool will field as strong a squad as possible, helped by having a relatively low number of injuries at this point in time. Kenny Dalglish has treated this competition seriously from the first match onwards.

The game is expected to present Jamie Carragher with the chance to remind Dalglish what he can do. Carragher went off injured at half-time in the last round against Stoke and despite being fit for the past two matches he has not been given his place back in the starting line-up. This is something new to Carragher, at least in recent times, but although the vice-captain will realise that his place in the side is no longer guaranteed he will also know his time at the club is far from over. The other competition for Carragher comes in the shape of new boy Sebastian Coates. The Uruguayan defender scored for the reserves last week and may also get a run-out tonight.

At full-back it seems likely that Glen Johnson, scorer of the winner nine days ago, will be rested against his former club. Dalglish has a number of choices to come into the side in his place with Martin Kelly likely to get the nod ahead of Jon Flanagan. At left-back there isn’t quite the same choice available to Kenny – Jack Robinson has been injured recently and Fabio Aurelio has rarely been anything else.

The game offers Kenny an opportunity to start with Andy Carroll and it may also see Craig Bellamy return following his absence on compassionate grounds from Sunday’s side. Maxi Rodriguez is another contender to start, having scored the opener on the same ground in the league win the weekend before last.

Speaking about the scheduling of the fixtures, Kenny Dalglish said: “Forty-eight hours is a bit irresponsible for the people who’ve organised the dates of the matches. It’s not just us, it’s Man City, to ask any team or any players to play two games of high intensity in 48 hours is a bit of a joke. I don’t know why the PFA don’t come in and say something about it – it’s their players.

“For me it’s difficult to understand why they don’t come out and say something. Or do they agree with it?

“We know we’ve got to accept it although we don’t agree with it, and it won’t affect the application or give us an excuse. There’ll be one or two bumps and bruises I would have thought, and maybe one or two missing, but we have a strong squad and we’ve made changes in other Carling Cup matches. It will be a late shout because we have to give everyone the best possible opportunity to recover.”

His advice to fans not to buy tickets seems to have gone unheard: “We’ve sold out our tickets for the match, we know what’s expected, the players know what’s expected of them, so all we can do is try our best and see what happens.”

Kenny doesn’t expect Andre Villas-Boas to select a weak side: “I don’t expect Chelsea to have to make changes, he’s said he’ll use the competition to try to develop three young players he has that he likes, so I suppose those three will play.”

Fernando Torres will be hoping to start against his former club but Raul Meireles is cup-tied, having played for Liverpool in the 3-1 win at Exeter back in August. Chelsea’s assistant manager Robert Di Matteo says Villas-Boas will be taking the game seriously in a competition they see as important: “In terms of him, I think, as a manager, winning a trophy is always very important. We’re looking forward to try to win this competition. It can give a very positive momentum if you win a trophy in that part of the season.”

Perhaps the reasons aren’t the same as they were when Bob Paisley was taking this competition so seriously in the eighties, but it does seem that at least two of the country’s top sides are once again looking at the League Cup as a piece of silverware worth fighting for. It’s just a pity that those who run the game in this country don’t really seem to see it that way themselves.

Kick-off: 7:45pm

Watch Live – TV Coverage

The TV companies aren’t taking the game too seriously either, meaning those Liverpool fans who did take Kenny’s advice to stay away will not be able to watch the game on English television until late on Tuesday night as part of the BBC’s highlights programme, The Football League Show. That’s on at 11:10pm (11:40pm in Northern Ireland) and the hour long show will also feature highlights of the other two quarter final ties being played tonight. Sky are showing the Arsenal v Man City game live.

Premier League games that kick off at 3pm on Saturdays can’t be shown live on TV because of UEFA regulations, but those regulations don’t prevent the same games being shown live overseas.  Although tonight’s game isn’t being shown live on TV it isn’t because of UEFA, but it can still be seen in other countries.

That means it will be possible to see the game live over the internet, making use of streams of varying levels of reliability and quality and in some cases with a risk of malware.

For those prepared to pay for a subscription FoxSoccer.TV in the US will be showing tonight’s game live online in a high quality stream. A US IP address is required to watch their coverage, for those living outside the US see USAProxyServer for details of how to get one using their Proxy Server and VPN services.