Jurgen Klopp has the full backing of the Liverpool hierarchy over his plan to stay away from his club’s FA Cup fourth-round replay with Shrewsbury.
Klopp said after Sunday’s 2-2 draw at the New Meadow that none of his first-team squad would be involved in next week’s game, which will be on either 4 or 5 February, in the middle of the first week of Liverpool’s winter break.
It is understood Klopp has already told his first-team squad they are free to spend next week as they like before returning to training on 10 February.
The Football Association said every club agreed to this season’s FA Cup fixture schedule and knew fourth-round replays might cut into their winter breaks, as is also the case with Tottenham, Southampton and Newcastle.
But people at Liverpool who have spoken to Klopp say he regards it as a ‘line in the sand’ moment with regard to player welfare and believes that for his opposition to the present situation to carry any weight, he must follow through his argument that the winter break was introduced to give players a rest.
Having ordered his players to do exactly that in order to recharge their batteries, he does not regard the replay as a first-team fixture and therefore will not be at Anfield, with under-23s boss Neil Critchley in charge in his place.
While plenty of managers, including Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola, have spoken out against the domestic fixture schedule, especially over the Christmas period when some clubs had to play twice in less than 48 hours, Klopp is taking the argument further, aware his actions are controversial and likely to draw criticism.
The matter is further complicated by an agreement between Uefa and the FA and Premier League to avoid scheduling domestic matches involving top-flight clubs in Champions League weeks if possible.
Neither Liverpool nor Tottenham have a European game in the week commencing 24 February. However, Liverpool have televised Premier League matches against West Ham and Watford on 24 and 29 February respectively, so would have to play twice in 48 hours if the FA Cup replay was arranged for that ‘spare’ week.
They would also require the agreement of the FA and either BT or the BBC if the replay were one of those chosen for live coverage. BT is unlikely to want to schedule an FA Cup tie on the same night as a Champions League game, making the whole idea of a change of date for the replay a non-starter.
An FA spokesperson said: “The FA went to great lengths to create an annual mid-season player break, working closely with the Premier League and its clubs. It is a new and significant addition to the English football calendar and is designed to benefit clubs and their players.
“To accommodate the annual mid-season player break, the FA rescheduled the FA Cup fifth round to midweek and removed fifth-round replays from the calendar. This allowed the Premier League room in its calendar to have a split round of fixtures over two weekends.
“Prior to start of the 2019-20 season, all clubs accepted that FA Cup fourth-round replays, where required, would have to take place during the first week of the mid-season player break. This will only affect a small number of clubs due to the split of Premier League fixtures in the mid-season player break.”