NO one is worried about getting knocked out of the League Cup.
We’ve all had the memo. The main event is trying to win the title, to pair with the Champions League, and for this to be the season we came to see as one, where we realised Liverpool were truly at the dawn of a new glory era.
The League Cup can knock at the door all it likes, this party gets started or stalls with or without it.
The ugly duckling can serve a purpose, though. On the one hand, it’s a bona fide trophy. It’s bigger than the Super Cup, Community Shield or World Club Cup thing. It takes a bit of winning.
Back in Liverpool’s original golden era, the League Cup was a trophy regularly added in seasons in which the bigger prizes were also claimed. It added a layer of depth to seasons. Winning lots of things, being in finals, they all play into the development of a culture, a culture of achievement.
We’re still a bit of a way off thinking about winning this League Cup, though. It remains a bit gauche to be talking about it as though it’s dish in a restaurant we can order to taste. It’s the coffee at the end of the meal, but there’s plenty to be digested before then.
In the here and now, the League Cup does not belong to the club and the supporters’ ambitions, it belongs to the playing squad and the varying dynamics within it. A good, well-managed League Cup campaign can aid us in trying to win the title and the European Cup. Not just in this season but in seasons to come.
Starlets such as Rhian Brewster and Harvey Elliott need games to kickstart careers of huge potential. They are not being risked in the big fixtures so they have to find action elsewhere.
Arsenal – whatever version of that institution turns up at Anfield – represent a genuine challenge. Playing against and beating Arsenal would be a massive marker for Liverpool’s prodigies.
It isn’t just about the kids. The likes of Joe Gomez, Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and even Divock Origi will all feel they would be first 11 picks for Liverpool right now but for injury misfortunes of varying degrees. They will believe they are each on a journey back towards reclaiming their rightful places. Like the kids, they need games to help build cases.
Jürgen Klopp will make 11 changes from the team he selected to beat Tottenham 2-1 at the weekend. He will recall Caoimhin Kelleher and almost certainly pick Joe Gomez and James Milner in his back four.
Because of injury to Joel Matip, Dejan Lovren is unlikely to be risked which could provide opportunity for a first-team debut for young Dutch defender Sepp van den Berg, a new signing last summer.
There’s also bound to be another debut in the full-back position with Ki-Jana Hoever unavailable due to involvement in an international youth tournament. French kid Yasser Larouci could be the lucky beneficiary of Hoever’s absence.
Klopp can afford to go strong with his front six, and I think he’ll set the team up in a 4-2-3-1 shape. Naby Keita and Adam Lallana could be asked to act as a double six partnership, with Chamberlain ahead of them as the ‘number 10’.
Rhian Brewster should lead the line with Origi playing off the left. The final berth in the side goes to either Curtis Jones or Harvey Elliott. The unlucky youngster is sure to feature off the bench whatever transpires.
Arsenal aren’t yet sure what success looks like for them and will go a touch safer than Liverpool in terms of personnel with first-team experience. Although the starting 11s will appear well matched, expect the visitors to go the stronger on the bench.
At Milton Keynes in the last round, Klopp picked only academy players. Arsenal coach Unai Emery is likelier to bring some of his bigger players with him to Anfield to try and win the tie from the bench in the second half, if required.
It will be a real test for Liverpool’s rookies and second stringers, but this is what these boys have been getting out of bed for.
If you want to join the first-team party lads, you need to pass auditions such as this.
Predicted 11: Kelleher; Milner; Gomez, van den Berg, Larouci; Lallana, Keita; Elliott, Chamberlain, Origi; Brewster
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