Let’s start the day with Liverpool seeking to postpone the Carabao Cup semi-final first leg on Thursday. In a statement on their official website, they say:
“Liverpool Football Club can confirm an application has been submitted for the postponement of Thursday’s Carabao Cup semi-final, first-leg tie with Arsenal due to an escalating number of suspected positive COVID-19 cases and player availability.
“The Reds have formally requested to the EFL that the fixture is rescheduled after further suspected positive tests were registered among players and staff, allied to other factors impacting selection, including illness and injury.”
This is interesting, to say the least. Obviously, if there are concerns about Covid then people’s health and well-being should be first priority – but in a scenario like this I think there needs to be full transparency. As I wrote last week, people will take a cynical view of requests for postponements without the full information. Ahead of recent fixtures, Arsenal have made public the names of players who tested positive for Covid, and last weekend we played Man City without our manager, assistant manager and a number of backroom staff. Is there any good reason why Liverpool couldn’t do the same?
There’s also some precedent. Back in October 2020, Sp*rs were given a bye into the fourth round after a number of Leyton Orient players tested positive for Covid. To be fair, it was different back than in terms of how seriously the virus was viewed and we were barely 6 months into the pandemic. Since then there’s greater information and knowledge, but it must surely be a consideration.
Not to mention that in 2019, when Liverpool had to play in the FIFA Club World Cup, they also had a tie with Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup to contend with. Jurgen Klopp named all his senior players for the FIFA tournament and said “I think it’s a really nice opportunity for the younger players”, when talking about the other game. Ok, they got beaten 5-0, but still, they were able to field a team which they deemed acceptable in extraordinary circumstances – sort of like now.
I think the fact it’s Liverpool and the fact it’s a semi-final will ensure that the first leg is not forfeit, but the knock-on effects of that if the game on Thursday is postponed will be serious. The schedule is already hectic, and let’s be honest – the idea of playing a two-legged semi in this tournament, this season, with everything that’s going on, was always ludicrous. I think both clubs would have been ok with one game, flip a coin for who plays at home, and get on with it. Instead, I don’t think the idea was even given a moment’s thought because sponsors and broadcasters would have lost out.
Mikel Arteta was due to hold a press conference yesterday at 1.30pm, but at the last minute that was changed to 2pm today. I assume it’s because we had wind that Liverpool were seeking the postponement, and I can only imagine we’re expecting a decision before the press conference later on. There’s no point having one if there’s no game to talk about, so we should know soon enough today.
Meanwhile, after doubting the Ainsley Maitland-Niles to Roma stuff yesterday, it appears that he is going to join Roma on loan. James Olley from ESPN reports: “Maitland-Niles will join Roma on loan until the end of the season. It is a straightforward loan, no option/obligation to buy. Formal announcement expected in due course.”
Things have moved at pace today – told this is now agreed. Maitland-Niles will join Roma on loan until the end of the season. It is a straightforward loan, no option/obligation to buy. Formal announcement expected in due course. https://t.co/L5AEvSHeFA
— James Olley (@JamesOlley) January 4, 2022
So, what does that mean for our midfield? Are we banking on the players we have to get us through this period, or is there a plan for someone else to come in and fill the gap? A loan move, perhaps? A contract for Jack Wilshere? I find it hard to understand why we would sanction a deal – especially just a loan where there is no obligation for Roma to make the deal permanent for a decent fee – when it leaves us short like this. An injury or a suspension to either Albert Sambi Lokonga or Granit Xhaka and we’re having to rearrange the deckchairs in a big way.
I guess if Arteta’s press conference goes ahead later on then we might get a bit more clarity on the situation. It does seem like an unnecessary risk unless there’s a solid idea about how we’d replace him or how we’d cope in the absence of another central midfielder, but right now we’re a little in the dark so it’s not unreasonable to feel a bit concerned until we get a better understanding of the decision making process.
I can’t help but think this window is going to be extraordinarily complicated because of Covid, and clubs already finding themselves without players on a regular basis. Allowing someone to leave for another club makes a squad shallower, and I think that’s going to play a part in how, and certainly in when, deals are done. I don’t really get why we’d do this so early in the window, but maybe it will make more sense when we hear from the manager.
There are other potential loan departures this month too. Folarin Balogun needs a club and needs to play; someone like Calum Chambers barely plays; and with Bernd Leno likely to leave in the summer, there’s surely a case to be made for one or even two of the young goalkeepers like Arthur Okonkwo and Karl Hein to go out and get some first team experience. Let’s see what happens.
Ok, that’s it for this morning. We’ve got a Patreon podcast available now chatting about VAR with someone who worked as a VAR technician in MLS – and assuming the game goes ahead tomorrow, we’ll have a preview podcast. We might even do one even if the game is called off.
Take it easy for now.