Domestic cup wins are a glorious building block for success, though only if your team is blessed with a squad to cope. We have seen Manchester City consistently able to achieve cup wins (in recent years), whilst maintaining both strong League and European campaigns. The issue is never the desire to lose in the League and FA Cup early, it’s more a case of managing the players and being able to maintain the squad throughout a long season.
Liverpool enter the last 16 of the EFL cup with a real chance of progressing to the quarter final stage. Their away trip to Preston North End comes on the back of a spectacular dismantling of Manchester United. It also comes before a vital run in both the Premier League and Champions League, and this must be considered the priority. This coming Saturday will see Liverpool back at Anfield to welcome an impressive Brighton side, before a midweek game against a visiting Atletico Madrid. A mere four days later Jürgen Klopp’s men will then travel to London (to face a strong West Ham side), and in this three game spell, maximum points must be targeted.
The League Cup has always (under Klopp) represented a chance to rest and rotate the Reds’ squad, and despite the latter stages in sight, this week should be no different. The Old Trafford victory needs to be solidified by a good run thereafter, and with Chelsea and Manchester City challenging Liverpool for the League this term, there has to be consideration for the bigger picture.
Caoimhin Kelleher should start in goal, and deserves such games to aid his development. Neco Williams showed enough good moments against Watford (the week prior) to warrant a rare start, and more importantly see Trent given a rest. Equally so, Andy Robertson should step out for the impressive Kostas Tsmimikas, who has shown himself to be a very good alternative for the Scotsman. At centre back Joe Gomez would be a good bet to skipper the side once again, with the brilliant Ibrahima Konate keeping his place. This immediately looks a strong and dominant backline, that will allow Virgil Van Dijk and Joël Matip to stay fresh. Matip was rested at the weekend, and there’s no need to rush this first choice defender back.
The midfield is now an issue area, with both James Milner and Naby Keïta joining Thiago Alcantara, Fabinho and Harvey Elliott on the injury list. It is this problem that will surely see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Curtis Jones start this game, with the latter looking to rebuild his load after injury. It could well be that one of these midfielders will be needed to start next weekend, and Jordan Henderson should now sit out, after three games in a week. Fabinho may be able to play some part in this game, but Tyler Morton should be starting this cup tie after an impressive showing in the previous round. How long Naby is out for is anyone’s guess, and though there may be a few minutes for a fit again Thiago, again his return needs to be managed.
The forward line has been spectacular this season, and there is surely the temptation to blow teams away in all games. Sadio Mane was rotated out against United, so could conceivably start this game. Players will still want to maintain momentum, so games have to be considered as opportunities as well as rest periods, for certain players. Takumi Minamino will be looking to start this game, and Divock Origi is always awaiting his next call of duty. This would then leave Kaide Gordon (a fabulous young talent), who should be looking to gain minutes in these games. Diogo Jota will offer a good emergency option from the bench, and allow others to take on some minutes.
The key components of Alisson, Virgil, Mo and Bobby need to be rested for this tie, with other squad members taking the weight. It should never be seen as disrespectful to the competition (to rotate heavily), more a sense of what is needed to maintain varying requirements, throughout the entirety of the playing squad. The presumed back line and spattering of talent across the side, makes the game more than winnable, and certainly offers great moments for fringe players to shine. I for one enjoy seeing young pretenders thrown into matches of this degree, and fully expect a strong performance from an eager Reds side.
However the match plays out, it’s almost a no win situation for Klopp. The reds are expected to progress whatever occurs, and a loss would no doubt bring momentary criticism from some. The bigger picture has to be the key players being ready for a difficult run, before the next international period. There can only be so many points dropped this season, and Liverpool still have limitations within their squad, so have to be as strong as possible in the league. Whatever teams steps out (in this last 16 encounter) is a team representative of Liverpool FC, and though a domestic cup run would be a superb notion, Jürgen Klopp must not avert his gaze from the major prizes his team can win this season.