Four years ago Garry Monk helped Swansea upset the odds by winning at Liverpool in the League Cup. The Leeds boss feels only a complete performance will see United achieve the same result tonight. Phil Hay reports.
League Cup upsets at Anfield. Garry Monk has been there and done that, albeit at a different time of his life. Liverpool away was the game in 2012 where Swansea City began clearing a path to the final. Leeds United need the same result at the same venue tonight, to keep the alive the same dream.
Monk was a second-half substitute on the night when Swansea caught Liverpool out and dealt with an urgent attempt by Brendan Rodgers to right the wrongs of his team selection and rescue the fourth-round tie. Swansea’s poise had Rodgers calling for substitutes Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez at half-time with Liverpool 1-0 down. A late goal from Jonathan de Guzman saw Swansea home with a 3-1 win.
Monk remembers the crowd at Anfield clapping Swansea’s players off at full-time. The least he will ask of his Leeds squad tonight is that they earn some of that respect, no matter the outcome of a quarter-final which is heavily weighted in Liverpool’s favour. “We were at our maximum that night,” Monk said. “We have to be completely at our maximum to have a chance.”
This was, once, a stellar fixture in English football and before his press conference yesterday Monk sat and chatted to Eddie Gray about Gray’s memories of Anfield; the title deciders and the epic games of the 1960s and ’70s. The clubs were equals in those days and in other eras since but Monk knows his revolution at Elland Road is on a different scale to Jurgen Klopp’s job at Anfield. It is also true that as a Premier League side, Swansea had a fair chance in 2012 but that tie still proved what a disciplined, comprehensive performance could do.
“It’s a great atmosphere at Anfield and it’s a very difficult atmosphere if Liverpool are playing well,” Monk said. “What we did was put our maximum performance on the pitch. We scored good goals and goals at crucial times.
“Ultimately we deserved to win and the feeling coming off...the thing with the fans at Anfield is that they appreciate when the opposition put a good performance on. That night they clapped us off the pitch. It would be great for our players if we could put on a performance that not only gets appreciation from our fans. If you come off at Anfield and you know they’re appreciating you, you’ve done something right.
“In a sense we have to follow those principles. We all know it’s a special place to play football and it’s good for our players to test themselves against opposition they’d like to be playing against week in, week out. The key is making sure we don’t get carried away with the fact that this is Anfield and this is a big game. Of course we respect that but we have to play our game.”
It would be tempting for Monk to think that Leeds have nothing to lose but the club are very close to the business end of the League Cup. An engrossing fourth-round win over Norwich City, a match which ended in a penalty shootout and Leeds playing with 10 players, took them into the quarter-finals for the first time in four years. United have not made the last four for fully 20, a run stretching back to the campaign under Howard Wilkinson in 1996.
A two-legged semi-final awaits the winners this evening. A two-legged semi-final was the last leg of Bradford City’s journey to the final at Wembley in 2013, the year when Monk and Swansea won the competition. “From my experience, you get to this stage, it’s a knockout competition and anything can happen,” Monk said. “We’ll go to Liverpool with belief. We have to limit our mistakes but we’ve got a good chance. An opportunity. We just need to make sure we do ourselves justice.”
Klopp, who weaved a magic wand for years at Borussia Dortmund, is something of a darling of the Premier League; charismatic, irrepressibly cheerful and extremely popular. Liverpool are second in the table and sticking around. Yet he lost patience with the Anfield crowd on Saturday, gesturing at them to stick with his team as they toiled in a 2-0 win over Sunderland.
“You’d have to ask him about it but maybe he felt that at that point the fans could have pushed the players a bit harder,” Monk said. “Maybe that’s what he felt was needed to help the team get over the line.
“Sometimes that’s the situation. You see quite a lot of managers do that nowadays. They try to get the crowd involved when their team’s not performing at their peak.” Was Sunderland’s approach a blueprint for Leeds this evening? “Of course we’ll think about that,” Monk said.
Klopp is not blessed with a full armoury to choose from. Adam Lallana is out and Daniel Sturridge, who has scored four goals in the EFL Cup this season, is nursing a calf strain. Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho were injured in Saturday’s victory against Sunderland, the latter suffering ankle ligament damage. Leeds defender Kyle Bartley was asked about Coutinho’s absence. “I’m happy about that one,” he admitted. “I’m not going to lie.”
Monk, however, has dilemmas of his own. United’s head coach has used every inch of his squad in previous rounds, taking advantage of the League Cup to field players who are more peripheral in the Championship. Goalkeeper Marco Silvestri – second choice behind Rob Green – was the star of the show in the penalty shootout against Norwich. Deep down Monk might feel a duty to start the likes of him.
Chris Wood said last week that places at Anfield should go to players who had featured most in the competition already. A guarded Monk refused to show his hand. “I’ll make the right decisions,” he said. “We’re here to win games and whatever I feel is the best team to go there and win the game is what I’ll choose.
“Everyone will want to play. But that’s been the key for me this season. In the league or the cup, all of them want to play. There haven’t been easy decisions for me and if that’s the way it is it means you’re doing something right. It means you’re going well. When it’s not like that you make easy decisions and I don’t want that. I want hard decisions.”