The Carling Cup: Was it worth it?

Everyone knows how important the (relatively) common appearances of Daniel Agger has been to the defensive performance of Liverpool this season. With the Dane on the pitch, the Reds have conceded a goal every 130 minutes. Contrast that to the fact that without Agger, a goal has been conceded every 59 minutes and it is painfully clear that the quicker he returns to the starting side the quicker the performances will improve.

Other than Arsenal’s goal machine Robin van Persie, I doubt there is a side in the Premier League that is so heavily reliant on one player to achieve results. It is no coincidence that Liverpool’s recent run of form has occurred whilst Agger has been injured.

And his importance is not just limited to the defensive phase of the game. Agger’s passing and forward runs contribute to the attacking movements as well

Agger is not the only important player that Liverpool has missed through injury this season. And no, it is not Gerrard.

Lucas continued last season’s form into the current campaign before being injured against Chelsea in the Carling Cup in December.

Was playing Lucas in the fixture worth it?

This was the third fixture in the Carling Cup that Lucas had featured in. The others came against Stoke and Brighton. One must question why he was playing a League Cup game against Chelsea, considering the importance of the league campaign and potential Champions League qualification, let alone the earlier fixtures against Stoke and Brighton – a side that had only just been promoted from the third tier of English football.

What furthers the confusion is Liverpool’s lack of depth in covering Lucas. One way to look at it is that it gave Kenny Dalglish no choice but to play the Brazillian. The other line of thinking is that an injury suffered meant the side had no cover for more important games.

Not only is Jay Spearing a player of significantly less quality than Lucas, but he plays the defensive midfield role differently – causing the side and the players around him to have to adjust from their usual (and successful to that point) tactics. Zonal Marking sums up the difference between the two very well:

“Whereas Lucas is very good at ’sweeping up’ ahead of a back four, Spearing prefers to get stuck in against a particular opponent and is not good at occupying space and covering a zone.”

As Andrew Beasley‘s tweet showed, Liverpool conceded far fewer goals with Lucas in the side than they have since his injury. Along with Daniel Agger, he is the most important player to the defensive structure and performance of the team (Pepe Reina is obviously also integral but this is just in reference to outfield players).

The benefits of winning the Carling Cup are minimal and I doubt they outweigh the costs (which also include Daniel Agger’s rib injury from the final).

Liverpool will now play in next season’s Europa League, which Director of Football Damien Comolli says “will help lure “big players” to Anfield this summer,” however one must wonder whether ending a challenge for Champions League football in return for a place in the Europa League will bring too many big names to Anfield next season.

The fact is that Liverpool sacrificed the longer game of challenging for a top four position by placing inflated attention on the Carling Cup – a competition with few benefits to victory.

Lucas was injured. Daniel Agger was injured. The players have played at a shockingly low level since the final. Champions League qualifications hopes are dead.

The Carling Cup: Was it worth it? No.

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