London — Third-tier Shrewsbury Town will attempt to do what Liverpool’s last 39 Premier League opponents have found impossible and create one of the FA Cup’s greatest shocks on Sunday.
Shrewsbury’s New Meadow ground will be packed to its 10,000-seat capacity for the visit of Jurgen Klopp’s side who, apart from a League Cup tie against Aston Villa when they fielded the youth team, have forgotten how to lose.
Should Tranmere Rovers have lost to Watford on Thursday night in a third-round replay, Shrewsbury, 16th in League One, will be the second lowest-ranked survivor in this year’s competition, 59 rungs below Liverpool on the ladder.
Their presence will at least add some magic to a fourth-round draw short of “classic” Cup matchups. Holders Manchester City host Championship promotion chasers Fulham on Sunday when Manchester United, booed off after a league defeat by Burnley on Wednesday, travel to either League One Tranmere or Watford.
Leicester City’s trip to Championship side Brentford looks the pick of the bunch on Saturday when Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur go to in-form Southampton in one of three confirmed all Premier League ties in the fourth round.
Burnley host bottom club Norwich City while on Monday 13-time winners Arsenal are at Bournemouth. West Ham United will have to put aside their relegation fears as they host Championship leaders West Bromwich Albion while Chelsea go to Hull City.
An oddity will see Birmingham City play an “away” tie at third-tier Coventry City in their own St Andrews Stadium by virtue of the fact that Coventry are tenants there.
Northampton Town, the only fourth-tier survivor, host Wayne Rooney’s Derby County on Friday. Once again team selections will be a feature of the weekend with managers prioritising elsewhere.
Wholesale changes are to be expected, including for Liverpool’s trip to Shrewsbury. Yet Klopp is unlikely to field his “kids” again — as he did for the Villa game when the first-team was in Qatar for FIFA’s World Club Cup — as his FA Cup record at Anfield is modest and he has yet to take his side to the fifth round.
While Liverpool have won the Cup seven times, Shrewsbury have some FA Cup pedigree too, reaching the quarterfinals in 1978-79 when they lost to Wolverhampton Wanderers and 1981-82 when they fell to Leicester City.
The Shropshire side also knocked out Liverpool’s Mersey rivals Everton in the third round in 2002-03, the same season they were relegated from the Football League, spending one season in the Conference before returning in 2004.
In 2019 they held Wolves to a 2-2 draw in the fourth round before losing a replay. Shrewsbury have also hosted Liverpool before in the FA Cup before. In 1996 they lost 4-0 in a fourth-round tie twice postponed by a winter freeze and which came days after the death of Liverpool’s great manager Bob Paisley.
While that year Liverpool went on to lose in the final, they were a fading force. This time they arrive restored to former glory and as European and World Club champions.
Shrewsbury’s only real hope is that some of Liverpool’s big guns are kept under wraps. But Shrewsbury boss Sam Ricketts hopes his side face Liverpool’s full force.
“I’d always rather play against the best. I’ve said as a player you want to play against the best and we’re no different now,” he said. “Whichever team Liverpool put out there is going to be some great players, no doubting that.
“But what better experience than to play against the very, very best that are currently head and shoulders above everyone else in the country.”