A 54-year-old performed a dad dance in the Royal Box at Wembley and whipped half of the stadium into a frenzy by hoisting the League Cup aloft not once but three times. Jürgen Klopp’s appetite for the competition, and for winning, should not be questioned again.
As is the case after any big club claims the first trophy of the season, the question turned quickly from Liverpool’s Carabao Cup success to its potential impact on other prizes that glitter on the horizon. Klopp’s players have been unequivocal with their answers. On social media Mohamed Salah posted: “One down …” Trent Alexander-Arnold, who stated recently that one trophy a season should be the minimum expectation on a squad of Liverpool’s talent, had much the same outlook, writing: “1/4. Hungry for more.”
Managers are often wary of hubris, Klopp included, but he admitted after the penalty shootout defeat of Chelsea that, with luck and continued hard work, Liverpool’s record ninth League Cup triumph could be “the start” for a season that retains possibilities in the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup. On current form, Manchester City’s six-point lead in the title race will not look insurmountable to a Liverpool team with a game in hand and a trip to the Etihad to come in April.
They also hold a 2-0 lead over Internazionale in the last 16 of the Champions League and host the Premier League’s bottom club, Norwich, in the FA Cup fifth round on Wednesday. There will be a craving for another Wembley experience following a first domestic cup victory for a decade.
Klopp’s options are plentiful should he opt for fresh legs in the FA Cup and to rest others ahead of West Ham’s visit in the Premier League on Saturday. Caoimhín Kelleher could start again and feel Anfield’s acclaim following his decisive contribution against Chelsea. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Takumi Minamino and Kostas Tsimikas did not make it off the bench in the final while Curtis Jones, impressive in the 6-0 rout of Leeds four days previously, did not make the matchday squad.
The Liverpool manager attributed early League Cup exits in previous seasons to having to “just collect the bones and use the last of the few guys we have” following consultations with the club’s medical department. Now, with greater resources, he collects the trophy.
Klopp was euphoric in his celebrations at Wembley and meticulous in his preparations. A goalless yet gripping final was decided by the finest margins and, once again, the Liverpool manager’s openness to fresh ideas and willingness to embrace specialists paid dividends.
During an extended pre-season last summer Klopp invited a German neuroscience company called neuro11 to work with his players on their mental strength. Their studies concern “accuracy training”, which helps players focus on delivering set pieces. Liverpool have scored most set-piece goals in both the Premier League and Champions League this season and were flawless with 11 penalties in the shootout victory against Chelsea, their second-choice goalkeeper included.
Dr Niklas Häusler and Patrick Hantschke, the founders of neuro11, spent last week at Liverpool’s training centre working with Klopp’s players again. The Liverpool manager credited the pair, who were present at Wembley, in an interview with the club’s TV channel after the Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga had spectacularly failed to unnerve any of his penalty takers.
“Somehow I had a feeling we deserved it, Caoimhín especially deserved it, and you have to say that we have neuro11,” Klopp said. “We worked with them. In the pre-season, you should have seen the boys in the training camp.
“They were training set pieces with the boys in the last few weeks and each player went through a proper drill, psychological, to do with penalties, corners and free-kicks. But penalties as well. So we had a list for the boys. First five and then six, seven, eight. But some of the players were not on the field any more. From eight onwards they were not even close on any list, so it was really exciting. Compliments to the boys, compliments to neuro11, they did an incredible job with the boys. I am really happy we could win it like this.”
The penalty shootout victory on Sunday was more by design than chance. Klopp’s relentless pursuit of improvement and success sets an example that runs throughout Liverpool.