IT’S a good time to be playing Derby. The mighty Rams have scored just two goals all season and are not quite their usual indomitable selves. Excellent. We smell sheep’s blood. We will feast on their lambs.
I’m bang up for a game like this. Feel’s like a nice little thank you gift from the Reds to me. A game I feel we’ve all earned. Obviously, we could lose. Obviously, we could disappoint. But there will be no tears come full time. We want to win, but we are acutely aware that we have bigger fish to fry this campaign.
At any rate, this a fixture that bodes well. We are in the finest of fettle. Our title odds are tumbling like the walls of Jericho. We’re knocking off cockneys by the score. All that remains is for Liverpool to keep scoring. To keep winning.
I bear Derby County no grudges. It’s a nice team, as Jürgen would say. I’d be mildly stoked with Derby getting back into the Premier League. They are club with few downsides. Their supporters seem decent sorts. Their region — I’m crediting Derby with the entire Peak district — is one of my favourite regions. I even like their kit. Dark and white. Simple. Sort of like Tottenham’s, but way better than Tottenham’s.
Maybe Derby are my favourite Midlands team. Yes, they definitely are. They’re the Nottingham Forest you can eat between meals without ruining your appetite. They are the real Brian Clough, the team of Hector, McGovern and Archie Gemmill. Players very few of which you will remember but were worth their weight in improbable title winning gold.
Your Newcastles, and your Aston Villas, and even your Leeds Uniteds, make a lot of noise, talk about being big clubs but in the last 40 years they can count the League titles won between them on their nose. Derby can count them on their ears. Derby County are a bigger club than all of those faux big clubs. Derby have won more leagues than Tottenham — in living memory, anyway.
Derby have had a wretched start to this season having flirted with promotion the past two. They may see the visit of Liverpool as something of a respite. They may see the arrival of ‘the real deal’ as an opportunity to find themselves. They may be in the gutter, just right now, but they’re still looking at the stars. Their manager will be telling his lads that this could be just the game for them to redefine themselves. Show your people, show your division, that you’re worthy of living with these.
Liverpool will not want to carelessly go out of the League Cup. Klopp’s first real statement as a Liverpool manager, last term, was to take his men all the way to a League Cup final. Absolutely no reason not to do so again. With our wonderful European nights of last season now drifting into fond memory territory, we must surely assert ourselves again in the domestic cups. It is vain folly to diminish them. Trophies have never grown on trees.
The winning of the League Cup has never signalled that a team is a force in the game, in itself. It is a wonderful bolt-on, though. When we used to win the league for fun in the 1980s, tagging on the League Cup always gave a season a more substantive feel. You’d won the league title and another cup. You were double winners of sorts. Undisputed kings of your country, masters of that season.
In 2001, winning the League Cup was important because it further validated the winning of the more impressive FA and UEFA cups. It completed the treble. In 2011/12, under Kenny, we were nearly League Cup and FA Cup double winners. We narrowly failed in the Wembley FA Cup final against Chelsea that year, but coming into that game it felt as if something bigger was at stake. Not just the FA Cup but the completion of a domestic trophy double. Had we won that second final, we’d have always referred to that season as the ‘two cups season’. It would have gained its own identity and place in our folklore.
This term, we’re title dreaming. It may very well transpire that this was delusional aspiration, but for now ‘it’s on’. Should we fall short, though, we may still find ourselves in the creditable company of the top four, and Champions League qualifiers. There may be no fourth place cup, but a handy finish and a trophy would represent a more than creditable first full season for Jürgen Klopp and his new Liverpool team.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The Rams need herding back into their pen first. Confidence is sky high at the moment and my suspicion is that Kloppo will see the retaining of momentum as the most important objective for Tuesday night. He will want to maximise the possibility of a repeat of that important 5-0 away at Burton Albion in the last round. Championship sides on their own patches are never mugs. Liverpool have had few easy rides in these kind of aways down the seasons. This made the nature of the score and performance all the more impressive.
To this end, expect Liverpool to be strong for Derby. The manager made four changes from his Premier League team in the last round, and that’s probably the number of alterations he’ll go for this time round.
Two Liverpool lads in particular will be desperate for selection. Emre Can has had fitness problems from the off but is back in training, and needs match action to get up to speed. His stock hasn’t fallen in his absence but that of others in the squad has risen. Where once Emre would have been confident of a swift recall, now he must look at Klopp’s recent first choice midfield of Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and Adam Lallana and wonder where he’s getting his game.
Loris Karius was signed in the summer to end Simon Mignolet’s testing three year incumbency in the Liverpool goal. A bright pre-season was cut short by a hand injury, but now the young German is mended and raring to go. He will know that despite Mignolet’s calmer form of late that he is Klopp’s chosen one. The manager has been waiting to choose the correct moment to drop Karius into the first team, and that time has now come.
Aside from Karius and Can, it seems highly likely that Divock Origi will earn what is now becoming a rare start for him. A scorer at Burton in the previous round, Divock has looked short of the player who had become close to a nailed on first pick for Klopp back in the spring. He needs minutes, goals, and a performance, or it could turn out to be a longer season than he anticipated.
Elsewhere in the side, the changes the manager opts for are more likely to be a product of the fitness statuses of the current first 11 or 12. Phil Coutinho is still searching for his best form, Roberto Firmino has a minor concern, and rising star Gini Wijnaldum looked battle weary as he hobbled from the Stamford Bridge pitch on Friday night.
Derby County will have few names on show that we will recognise, although I’ve noticed they have that Andreas Weiman fella, who always seemed to do well against us for Aston Villa. They also have English football’s blondest man, and still trying to be English football’s next big thing, Will Hughes. All but a Liverpool player a while back, he now seems destined to be a Derby County player for a reasonable while longer.
The Rams have won just once in eight games in the Championship. That’s rubbish and leaves them wondering what’s become of them. A push for the play-offs currently looks fanciful. Still, they’ve conceded just seven goals, and drawn a number of games, which hints at a heartbeat. They clearly, then, won’t lie down for the Reds, but let’s be honest, if we go strong, they shouldn’t be able to live with us.
The Red wolves to feed on the Derby flock:
Karius; Clyne, Lovren, Lucas, Moreno; Can, Henderson, Grujic; Mane, Coutinho, Origi.