FA vs EFL Cup
In this rare moment of quiet where Liverpool hasn’t a game for a few days, I imagine both the coaching staff and medical team are deciphering who is viable to play in the following two games. The upcoming six games come as listed below, with the final fixture giving a six-day break until the Reds head to Burnley on February 10th.
Upcoming Liverpool Fixtures:
- Sunday – 7th January – FA Cup – 3rd Round: Arsenal (Away)
- Wednesday – 10th January – EFL Cup – Semi-Final 1st Leg: Fulham (Home)
- Sunday – 21st January – Premier League: Bournemouth (Away)
- Wednesday – 24th January – Premier League: Chelsea (Home)
- Sunday – 4th February – Premier League: Arsenal (Away)
Navigating Liverpool’s Cup Dilemmas
Usually, a trip to Arsenal in the FA Cup would typically have me hoping for the strongest team available to start, to ensure every opportunity was taken to reach the 4th round of the competition. As with any tournament, it is often vital to consider the potential trophy victory, especially for Liverpool Football Club. This 2023/24 campaign, however, has been turned on its head by recent events. As the Christmas and New Year celebrations ended, Jürgen Klopp would have sat back and admired what has been attained in the first half of the season. To be top of the Premier League, into the EFL Cup semifinal, and through to the knockout stages of the Europa League, is a remarkable achievement for a squad in transition. If this were not a period that had both the Asia Cup and African Cup of Nations to contend with, there might well be a strong argument to field a full side against the Gunners this coming Sunday. The fact that the 4-2 win over Newcastle ended with three players becoming unavailable thereafter means that tough calls will now have to be made. From those that participated in the match at Anfield, Wataru Endō and Mohamed Salah are now headed to their respective international duties, whereas Dominik Szoboszlai departed the pitch with a hamstring injury. Joining them are Thiago Alcântara and Stefan Bajcetic, along with Andy Robertson, Kostas Tsimikas, and Joël Matip, as players that will not feature in January, at the very least.
With all the issues above considered, the EFL Cup 1st leg tie against Fulham should now take precedence over the game that comes just three days prior. The chance to reach the final of that tournament is very much in the Merseyside giants’ grasp, which means the strongest possible line-up must start at Anfield next Wednesday evening, even if it means a weaker starting eleven at the weekend. I would not want to see a full quota of academy players heading to the Emirates, though I feel like with the middle and defensive areas now so stretched, it would be foolish not to rotate accordingly and save the more elite eleven for Fulham.
Liverpool’s January Fixture Crunch
Below is how I would like to see each game selected, with minutes attributed to various assets I would prefer withdrawn early, or brought in.
My Team to Face Arsenal:
- GK – Caoimhín Kelleher
- RB – Joe Gomez (45 mins)
- LB – Luke Chambers
- RCB – Jarell Quansah
- LCB – Virgil van Dijk (60 mins)
- RCM – Ryan Gravenberch
- CDM – Alexis Mac Allister (45 mins)
- LCM – Curtis Jones (60 mins)
- RF – Harvey Elliott
- CF – Diogo Jota (45 mins)
- LF – Cody Gakpo
- Conor Bradley for Joe Gomez
- Ibrahima Konaté for Virgil van Dijk
- Trent Alexander Arnold for Alexis Mac Allister
- Luis Díaz for Curtis Jones
- Darwin Núñez for Diogo Jota
With the above, the only positional shuffle (due to substitutions) would be to shift Harvey Elliott back into midfield on 60-minutes, where Luis Díaz joins the attack in his stead. The game management and score-line may scupper all pre-game decisions, yet I imagine there will be a plan that the manager will at least attempt to stick to.
EFL Cup: Liverpool’s Top Priority?
My Team to Face Fulham:
- GK – Alisson Becker
- RB – Trent Alexander Arnold
- LB – Joe Gomez
- RCB – Ibrahima Konaté
- LCB – Virgil van Dijk
- RCM – Harvey Elliott (60 mins)
- CDM – Alexis Mac Allister (60 mins)
- LCM – Curtis Jones (60 mins)
- RF – Diogo Jota (45 mins)
- CF – Darwin Núñez
- LF – Luis Díaz (75 mins)
- Ryan Gravenberch for Harvey Elliott
- Owen Beck for Alexis Mac Allister
- James McConnell for Curtis Jones
- Cody Gakpo for Luis Díaz
With some positional reshuffling, the returning Owen Beck would enable Joe Gomez to move to the right, whereas Trent Alexander Arnold would step up to replace Alexis Mac Allister in midfield.
Clearly, this is all my interpretation of how the next seven days should unfold, though I would not be surprised if this logic and careful coordination of playing minutes was carried out. We will find out on Sunday just where the priorities lie and whether the EFL is seen as the more vital domestic cup fixture.