NOTHING like a free game when the heat is on. Spurs at home under all those new lights in the League Cup. A Tuesday night too. No tortuous wait ‘til Wednesday. And all in the name of what? Not the league title race, that’s for sure.
Everyone wants to win this game, to beat the Tottenham but if we don’t just watch our recovery time. I’ll be back in training for the Palace league game by Wednesday dinner time. No brooding. Full of beans still. Double sessions/triple sessions. I’m doing whatever it takes to win this league.
The League Cup is a bonus for me and Jürgen’s Reds. A fantastic distraction from our bread and butter – the league – our raison fucking d’etre.
It’s a perfect game – Spurs at home in the EFL Cup – in so many ways. It’s a B grade competition, so we aren’t fully 100 per cent arsed, but it’s against A grade opposition, so it’s nicely spiced and sauced up. It’s at home, which feels like such a lovely place to be these days.
If the encounter didn’t look fruity enough, it comes pre-loaded with loads of intriguing ‘selection posers’ for both managers. What is not to love about selection posers? They keep me up nights. In an entirely good way.
I’ll be wide awake at 3am. Bolt upright shouting “we can’t play Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge, can we?!”. My wife will start screaming, the dogs will be barking and kids will be running in thinking we’ve been broken into.
Back to sleep, settling my mind to thinking about strategic solutions. It’s like counting sheep only with a greater breadth of content. Four-four-two, with a midfield diamond. Four-two-three-one, with Sturridge up top. Stick to the four-three-three. Round and round. A carousel of tactical possibilities to still a wandering mind.
“You fucking idiot” my wife Michaela puts out there, before a clasping a pillow over her head. To aid resumption of sleep, or vainly hoping for an escape from this life? I don’t care. I’m lost by then in a sleepy sea of formation nomenclatures.
If this is my life, I can only dream how fantastic Jürgen Klopp’s must be. I wonder does he do what Shanks legendarily did. Got up rather than fought the insomnia. Paced his kitchen. Pre-set the table for breakfast. Then re-set it, but this time with the salt and pepper pots closer together matching the symbiosis of the Hunt/St John striking partnership. Behind them, the cornflakes box, tall, proud, angular, representing his defensive colossus Ron Yeats.
I hope Jürgen does this too. His kitchen is a very different affair to Bill’s humble ‘50s formica effort. Kloppo’s kitchen is bigger than Shanks’ house was. It’s got a central island in it. Bill’s island was called a table. Jürgen’s is the size of the rock that sits in the middle of the Seine and houses Notre Dame. It’s a massive granite topped monster.
When Buvac comes round for a hot sausage or some Gluhwein, him and Jürgen do keepy uppies to each other over the top of it. Kloppo’s a bit of a klutz and ends up over-reaching and smashing some jars of pasta that his wife has artistically arranged to create a feel.
The two bros start sweeping up the broken glass and gathering up the plague of penne and conchiglia that have diaspora-ed to the four corners of the kitchen floor. Got to get the mess sorted before Ursula comes back or Jürgen is toast.
Buvac and Klopp work as a team. Feverishly, methodically. They cover every inch of the Amtico floor. There’s a rhythm to their work. A synchronicity to their understanding of each other’s movements.
As the clear-up task nears completion, Buvac pauses and smiles.
“Hey Jürgen, man.”
“We’re down to the last 22 pieces.”
“It’s like a sign or something.”
The boys laugh in that way that people sometimes nervously over-laugh at things that are not really funny. Twenty-two pieces of pasta. To you or I, that’s the starting point of a meal. To these obsessed geniuses of the modern game, it’s an opportunity.
Soon, the dried durum wheat morsels are being arranged, structured, marshalled. Buvac demonstrates how he thinks Pochettino will set up Spurs. Klopp naturally will play as Liverpool. The island’s granite work surface is cleared to make room for these edible hypothetical combatants.
Poch has hinted at changes. Over a fortnight ago he said that he foresaw some of his youngsters getting a run out at Anfield. Champions League fixtures bookending a busy spell for this young Spurs team, it is imperative he preserves legs.
In new signings Vincent Janssen and Georges-Kevin N’Koudou, he has talent that is aching for first team games and he will ease their frustration with starts at Anfield. He has able deputy full-backs in his squad and will look to give his first choice hard-runners, Danny Rose and Kyle Walker, deserved respite. Kieran Tripper and Ben Davies their natural replacements.
The big teams have big squads these days. A bit of rotation here or there can go unobservable to the naked eye. The test of whether or not Liverpool and Spurs will be facing just slightly watered-down versions of each other, of something closer to pale facsimiles, rests with the choices made for the attacking positions.
We can expect the defensive cores of these sides to remain recognisable. Those real selection posers are all about what happens to much vaunted front threes.
The Spurs boss will feel he has to give his main three – Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela and Dele Alli – a break. He is without last season’s top scorer Harry Kane anyway, so whether or not he picks Heung-Min Son or Janssen as his focal point striker is of no great interest.
Klopp made around four or five voluntary outfield changes for his team’s earlier League Cup games against Burton and Derby. His picks, however, were very strong and reflected a desire to maintain momentum.
We’re further into the season now, though. Spurs in midweek could do to us what Champions League games have been doing to our rivals. Jürgen has two modes for these occasions – he either stays strong or he goes with nine changes.
The call here is for eight switches. Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren to stay in, and Adam Lallana to start again as he needs minutes for full match fitness. Arguably Emre Can does too, but his physicality will be needed at Crystal Palace on Saturday and the manager may remain risk averse.
If Can misses out, Jordan Henderson definitely does (suspended for one match). Lucas Leiva and Marko Grujic might be favourites to be drafted in.
If the full-backs are to be rested, then we’ll see a rare start for Alberto Moreno and a deserved call up for ‘future of Liverpool FC’ Trent Alexander-Arnold. An outside bet, if Klopp feels like gambling, would be to bring in his secret fave amongst the kids, Ovie Ejaria.
This is all pure guess work, but we could be seeing Liverpool set up with a 4-4-2 diamond formation, with Gini Wijnaldum as the front-most fulcrum. Ahead of him would be the partnership of Origi and Sturridge, that briefly hinted at real promise on rare occasions last season. Maybe Ejaria will be the surprise inclusion for that spec.
It would be smart to win this game, and without the draining fuss of extra time. Next up is the quarter-finals and by that stage Wembley starts to come into view. Winning leagues is what we’re all about but cups give you more special days. We’re all about the special days.
Jürgen will find the right blend. A mighty enough Liverpool to see off distracted Spurs, with understudies staking claims as the main actors sit on the bench pissing about on their phones and tickling each other like daft kids.
Here’s to hoping Danny S and Divvy O can do this all on their own and leave Phil, Sadio and Bobby fresh and fragrant for the cup final, of sorts, at the Palace on Saturday.
Face the front Reds. Never look back. We’re marching towards the promised land.
The mighty makeshift Reds 11:
Mignolet; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Lovren, Moreno; Lucas, Wijnaldum, Lallana; Ejaria; Sturridge, Origi.