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FA Cup final: King Kenny is in a league of his own when it comes to FA Cup focus

As Liverpool’s players lay slumped on the Anfield turf, a feeling of disappointment was almost tangible throughout the famous old stadium.

And yet it was not despair written on the faces of the fans and the team, but more a collective wry smile, a sense that bigger battles lay ahead.

Fulham had just become the fourth team to win at Anfield since the beginning of March, and that worrying statistic has shown in Liverpool’s current league position of eighth.

Faced with the very real prospect of finishing below Everton in the league table for the first time since 2005, Liverpool’s league campaign has been an unmitigated disaster. Seven years ago, Liverpool were saved from twelve months of Evertonian bragging by their stunning Champions League victory.

And once again for Liverpool, it is a cup competition which could provide timely salvation.

Cup success worth more than league places

In recent weeks, Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish has confounded a number of his team’s fans with his insistence that cup success is worth more than a respectable league position.

And to a degree he is right, the gap between, for example, sixth and seventh in the league is too small to drive an FA Cup sized wedge.

And yes, a cup double (Liverpool won the Carling Cup earlier this year) would go some way towards easing the disappointment of their 2011-12 Premier League season. But are Kenny’s priorities right?

Unfortunately in the eyes of many, today’s footballing landscape has changed due to the shadowy figures of club accountants, shareholders and super-rich oil tycoons. Unfortunately for Kenny, the prize money of higher league finishes and their associated rewards makes a slightly bigger impression than a day out at Wembley.

Say what you like about the FA Cup and its gradual dilution, but it is not as financially viable an objective to pursue as it once was.

Far from ideal

In an ideal world, Kenny’s priorities would be lauded by all, but a world in which Andy Carroll is worth £35 million is far from ideal.

Of course, with the Financial Fair Play rules now in place, clubs have to spend within their means. Winning a domestic cup every year is unlikely to provide fitting justification for the significant outlay on players such as Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing, but then, not much is.

This season, there is every chance that Dalglish’s tactics will be rewarded with a cup double, but it is unlikely to be the case every year. Cups are volatile and unpredictable in nature; one bad draw or one refereeing mistake and the dream is over. Putting your delicate eggs in one expensive basket may prove to be risky business.

That Liverpool find themselves no lower than eighth in the league is thanks in no small part to the fluctuating form of the congregation of teams below them. That may not matter to Kenny and co, but a Carling Cup win will not make up for the pain of finishing below Everton.

On Saturday, Liverpool’s gamble will be put to the test. Win the game and Dalglish can sit comfortably enough, safe in the knowledge that for now, he is right to pursue his own goals. However, defeat is not an option, in fact, for Liverpool it would be a big price to pay.

By Doug Elder

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