WEST HAM 0
Juergen Klopp told a joke. He's good at jokes.
If Liverpool's fixture pile-up continues, he said, maybe the FA Cup fourth-round replay against West Ham would be played in the morning with a game already scheduled in the afternoon.
His jibe earned a few laughs at the press conference yesterday morning (Singapore time).
The cheeky soundbites are a short-term Kevlar vest, often protecting Klopp from the British media.
Many of the match reports repeated more broken records than Usain Bolt's resume. They focused on Liverpool's fixture turmoil, as if the post-Christmas pile-up was a unique phenomenon.
The dire 0-0 draw against West Ham was Liverpool's ninth game in 29 days. The Reds face table-topping Leicester City on Wednesday morning, which could potentially be the first of eight games this month.
But the Reds' difficult circumstances were partly self-inflicted. Klopp is a little culpable here.
He made 10 changes - every outfield player was swopped after the League Cup semi-final, second-leg match against Stoke last Tuesday - and essentially invited West Ham to slice off their third Liverpool scalp of the season.
The Hammers' failure to do so owed more to the early injuries of James Tomkins and Cheikhou Kouyate than Klopp's tinkering.
The German's comment that the last thing Liverpool needed was another fixture was exasperating in its honesty.
He's right. They really don't. So why was there such a reluctance to stick at least a couple of senior campaigners on the bench?
Klopp might have thrown a security blanket over the subs' bench, leaving Roberto Firmino, James Milner and Adam Lallana to keep the unfamiliar names company.
When West Ham flagged in the second half, struggling to cope with a makeshift defence, only a gentle touch of class was required to break their resistance.
But it wasn't available. What was left of the A Team were sitting in the VIP seats, cooing over tiny loved ones.
Yet it was the kids on the pitch who needed hand-holding.
Cameron Brannagan, still only 19, essentially controlled central midfield and earned his standing ovation when he was eventually substituted.
Brad Smith also caught the eye at left back, but neither the Australian nor Brannagan benefited from an end product.
Liverpool lacked a creative outlet, a nifty dynamo to take the baton into the final third.
And, despite Klopp's protestations to the contrary, they weren't all injured. They were looking down from their executive box.
Had Brendan Rodgers dropped every outfield player in favour of second-stringers and callow youths in a pivotal FA Cup clash, he would have been pilloried. In fact, he often was.
Klopp, on the other hand, was praised for giving the kids a run around Anfield.
But Brannagan, Smith and even Kevin Stewart's solid showings obscured the inconvenient truth that a replay was avoidable. The advantage has been unnecessarily handed to the Hammers.
The German's mock horror at English football's congested schedule titillated when he arrived, even if it was scarcely believable.
A cursory glance at any EPL fixture list from seasons past would have underlined the work overload required.
But there must be a slight concern over his priorities now. Liverpool are not the "big club" they profess to be and a scythe should be taken to any remaining delusions of grandeur.
The Reds are just not in a position to treat the FA Cup as a second-class trinket.
It's interesting to note the pre-match discussion between Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard. The hometown heroes reminisced about the last time Liverpool and West Ham met in a pivotal FA Cup encounter.
It was the 2006 final, which the Reds won on penalties in one of the great smash-and-grabs in the tournament's history, one that is still fondly remembered among the Anfield faithful.
Carragher and Gerrard were under no illusion about that final's significance to the club.
Their views are more reflective of the average Liverpool follower, a fan who has skulked in the shadow of the Manchester United behemoth for three decades.
Right now, the Reds will take anything.
Klopp would do well not to disregard FA Cup fixtures, particularly when a place in the top four seems more of a pipe dream than a legitimate aspiration.
The German is right to stretch his resources across several competitions in the coming weeks, but he must also realign his thinking to match the pragmatic expectations of those in the Anfield crowd.
On the Kop, the FA Cup still counts.
Their manager's lofty ambitions are noble, but unrealistic. Klopp really should devote greater resources to the fourth-round replay.
As it stands, beggars can't be choosers.
This article was first published on Febuary 1, 2016.
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