Carabao Cup woe highlights sparsity of Jurgen Klopp's options at Liverpool
Tuesday's 2-0 defeat and Carabao Cup exit at Leicester was a troubling defeat for Liverpool supporters, who had grown accustomed to either reaching the semis (2015 and 2017), the final (2016) or winning the competition (2012).
After the precautionary withdrawal of Philippe Coutinho at half time, Liverpool collapsed. That was one disturbing aspect, more so than a perceived lack of determination to compete in what is clearly the lowest-ranked trophy of them all.
Every autumn sees the same argument: should the Reds give the League Cup -- whatever it's called -- their full attention, or should it be left quietly by the roadside like an old mattress that's seen better days?
Virtually no Premier League club plays its full team at this stage of the competition, unless they're drawn against a big club or a local rival where honour is at stake. Even then, Leicester didn't bother with a quality XI for the visit of Liverpool. What's antagonising is that they didn't even need their best team to win comfortably.
That raises more doubts about just how strong the Reds' squad is. Their regular forward line was missing on Tuesday, with Daniel Sturridge also rested. Good chances went begging. Defensively they were poor too but that surprised nobody since Liverpool ship goals whoever plays.
England's midweek trophy is a peculiar creature, one that antagonises foreign coaches like Klopp who already believe the workload is too much. Criticism of team selection can be ignored. Liverpool have always done this since the Gerard Houllier era when squad rotation first became topical.
Under Rafa Benitez, it became blatantly obvious the competition was merely in the way of attempts to achieve greater ambitions. He still reached the 2005 final, losing to Chelsea 3-2 in extra time.
For a long time under successive managers, the policy has always been to field weak teams until the semifinal -- and then take it seriously.
It didn't even matter if the Reds were given a tough draw early, typified by some unnerving names on Benitez's team-sheet for Tottenham away in November 2008; Cavalieri, Degen, Dossena, Darby, Plessis, N'Gog, El Zhar.
Being top of the league at that time and also regularly competitive in Europe helped him bypass all criticism of that game, which Liverpool unsurprisingly lost 4-2.
Klopp bucked the trend in December 2005, with a strong team hammering Southampton 6-1. The Saints got revenge in last season's semifinal, winning both legs despite another strong Liverpool team.
Perhaps Klopp remembered how all those games made January a more complicated month than usual and simply decided the competition got in the way?
That theory will outrage many for whom a trophy, any trophy, cannot simply be discarded because it's an inconvenience. "Liverpool must win trophies," they censoriously proclaim.
All well and good, but that merely reminds you what happened to the last Liverpool manager who did so. Kenny Dalglish was fired in May 2012. He won the League Cup and reached the FA Cup final as well. None of it was enough.
No Champions League qualification, not even a challenge for a top four place, meant he could not keep his job. It felt brutal, especially treating a club legend like Dalglish that way, but most accepted it needed to be done.
The Carabao Cup wasn't going to do it for Klopp, and he knew it. His main stars were needed for the three tough away games to come: Leicester again, Spartak Moscow and Newcastle United.
If someone like Mohammed Salah was selected and began to run out of steam by the time he reached Moscow, Klopp would have faced a severe backlash for that too.
What he will be criticised for is the state of Liverpool's squad, especially the lack of defensive cover. Fans already knew that anyway, and didn't need defeat at Leicester for confirmation.
They bristled on social media after Klopp declared he was sick of the goals the Reds were conceding. Their concerns go way beyond some spurious notion that Liverpool must compete 100 percent for every single trophy.
They'll see the other major clubs reaching the next round of a competition they also show scant respect for and wonder; how come they did it, and not Liverpool?
Within context, cup competitions are notoriously unpredictable anyway. That's why people love them as a necessary break from the grind of league games.
This decade Liverpool have reached four League Cup semifinals, two finals and won a trophy that virtually nobody takes too seriously. It's a decent record, better than most.
Being knocked out isn't what concerns people, it's the club's second level of players looking ill-suited to the job that is far more troubling.
Steven Kelly is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @SteKelly198586.