THE League Cup can feel like a bit of a pain in the arse at times, but going into this season I wanted Liverpool to win it more than I ever have before.
The penalty shoot-out loss to Manchester City last season was the first of two heartbreaks in Jürgen Klopp’s first season. It pissed me off more than it normally would have. The script was written for Klopp to win a trophy in his first four months at the club. Then those sky blue bastards took it. That needs to be rectified.
It looked a tricky draw when it came out, home to an impressive Spurs side, but these Reds are scared of no-one.
Liverpool made 11 changes. Spurs made 10. I was still looking forward to it immensely, though. These Reds will do that to you. I had to make do with watching it on telly but being 250 miles away does that, sadly.
Starts for Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ovie Ejaria increased the intrigue. TAA was calm, composed and looked like he belonged from the start. Ejaria pinged a pass out for a throw-in after about 10 seconds, then decided he didn’t care about that and was excellent.
Off the ball it appeared to be a 4-4-2 diamond in the main. Kev Stewart deep, Gini Wijnaldum, Marko Grujic and Ejaria rotating the other three positions, with Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi leading from the front.
Different system, different players, but it still felt eminently Liverpool in the ninth minute when the sharks smelled blood, after Josh Onomah fell over. Grujic was perhaps a bit greedy trying to shoot but the end justified the means, as Sturridge did the world class striker thing and sniffed the opportunity for a tap-in before anyone else did. The unfiltered joy in Alexander-Arnold’s celebration may be the screenshot of this season’s League Cup.
So much Sturridge talk since the weekend. Since every weekend when he doesn’t play. It’s amazing how many column inches you can cause by pulling a face while sat on the bench. If I were him I’d just turn up at Selhurst on Saturday with one of them clown masks on. Imagine if he keeps it on when he comes on and scores, then does the wriggly arms with a clown mask on while Sadio Mane is desperately trying to find another mask so he can join in.
Tonight he starts, and tonight he’s the man. He’s involved in everything going forward, gets his goal, links up with Origi, has an effort from range tipped over, completely cocks up a far easier chance when he mystifyingly goes with his right foot, but he’s there. He could have had a first-half trick.
Then there’s Origi. He runs, and he runs, defenders bounce off him, so he runs some more. He’s lost it, he’s overrun it, but still finds the prod to Daniel. Origi and Sturridge looked like a potential partnership made in heaven against Stoke at Anfield last year, only to seldom be seen again, until tonight. They got the band back together and at times looked unplayable.
Imagine Origi running at you, and then the terror of the idea that if he can execute his pass, Sturridge is there. And they’re not even our first choice attack. More of this in the League Cup (at least) please gaffer.
Alexander-Arnold belts Ben Davies in the air and gets a yellow. “Youthful exuberance” it’s put down to but I prefer to think that he’s just got Jon Flanagan posters on his wall and he imagined that Davies was Sterling. You never forget your first yellow, and learning how to play on without getting another one is a useful experience.
Spurs have some possession. A graphic shoots up that in a 10-minute spell they’ve had 63% of the ball. Niall Quinn praises them for it. He’s praised them for everything. The ex-Arsenal striker seems to love Spurs. Not sure why, but each to their own. He praises their pressing, he praises their energy, he praises their possession, then concedes that this Spurs side – who are 1-0 down at this point – haven’t created anything.
Anything that involves Lucas quickly becomes my favourite thing. Lucas is the general. Lucas is boss. He is ordering everyone about while dispossessing Vincent Janssen. He talks Alexander-Arnold through the first-half, then dispossesses Janssen, and gives Stewart man-on calls, before dispossessing Janssen. He is even seen to be directing Klavan in the art of defending. An international centre-back who is over a year older than Lucas…who then dispossesses Janssen. Unlucky!
Kev Stewart is just Kev Stewart. He’s always there. Just as you think Spurs are going to break, he’s there. They get the ball wide and past the full-back, he’s there. They try to slow play down and play it back, but he’s there again. Harry Winks should have a check when he steps onto the coach, he might just find Kev Stewart in his seat. As back-up holding mids go, you’d have to go a long way to find a better one, and even if you did go that far you’d only turn round and get tackled by Kev Stewart.
Switching play and long balls seemed an oddly popular trait of the game. Wijnaldum plays a long ball out wide that leads to the first goal, albeit reliant on two Spurs errors, but it’s used in the main as a viable way to get out of trouble. Spurs press. Quinn was right to praise them for it. A different side but the same Pochettino ideas. It’s uncomfortable at times, but largely sensible from the Reds. They’re not afraid to blam it up the field if need be.
On 51 minutes, Janssen digs a cross out that lands in front of Kieran Trippier about 30 yards from goal. He goes for a hopeful volley that sails comfortably over, and Quinn praises the fact that Spurs created a chance. It wasn’t even a half-chance, but testament to the Reds’ makeshift defence that it was considered one. Yet again, they’re letting nothing through in open play.
Then, from nowhere, Origi decides he’s going to be the best player on the pitch for a bit. He goes on a run down the right that opens up Spurs like a can of beans, following a Lucas pass, then squares for Sturridge, who goes with his right foot again and the ball ends up behind him. A goal is coming though, and surely for Sturridge.
Origi is master of the ball. Everything sticking to his boots, turning lads inside out, bossing everything, smashing one from range that would have ripped the net off had Michel Vorm not tipped it over.
Then he turns the ball into Wijnaldum and space opens up. The Dutch maestro plays a perfectly weighted pass into Sturridge who is onside and through on goal. Fancy playing that high a line against these Reds? He’s going to miss though, isn’t he? This is going straight at Vorm. He’ll try to go round him and fall over. No. Two-nil. Never in doubt.
Sturridge typifies what he is. Frustrating at times? Sure. A tad selfish? Every great striker is. Face like a smacked arse when he’s benched? A bit, yes. But he’s a striker who will always get chances, will put loads of them away and even when he inexplicably misses a few sitters, he’ll still probably bang in the next one and win you the game.
Poch has brought on Erik Lamela and Victor Wanyama (whose last League Cup outing saw him getting biffed 6-1 by these Reds). Klopp responds by bringing on Nathaniel Clyne and Danny Ings. Ings gets a standing ovation, as does Alexander-Arnold for a more than solid debut. He handled Kevin-Georges Nkoudou far better than most right-backs in France did last season.
This feels just like Saturday where Liverpool are comfortable. Sure they could have scored more, but they’re playing well, have a two-goal cushion and…shit. Now it feels just like Saturday.
It looked harsh at first but Lucas deciding to kick Lamela’s ankles several times eventually lead to the Argentinian sitting down for his penalty. It’s a silly one to give away, but I could never stay mad at Lucas. Just look at that little face.
Janssen dispatches the pen and gets his goal in the only way he ever would have in a month of Sundays.
Then, not to be outdone on the doolab scale, Moreno very nearly concedes another pen. It’s a tight one, but not given, and considering Sturridge was fouled just as badly by Cameron Carter-Vickers earlier in the game for no reward, it probably evens things.
The fairytale script is almost written as Ings is played in on goal, but he gets over-excited and unleashes his shot earlier than he needed to. Not a bad hit but a ‘keeper of Vorm’s quality saves it every time.
Hearts skip a beat as the first real chance Spurs create from open play falls to young Shayon Harrison, but he panics more than we do and Mignolet smothers.
Emre Can is brought on to be incredibly sensible and just dribble towards corners with his big frame. Good lad. Whistle goes. Job done.
The Reds beat the unbeaten Tottenham. It may not have been full strength Spurs, but it was far from full strength Liverpool.
Liverpool reach a record 22nd League Cup quarter-final and await whoever in the next round. Facing Rafa would be nice.
Another win. Another night to be happy. We can feel good about our present and our future. I’m starting to smell Wembley again.
Up the much-changed Reds.