Liverpool get their League Cup campaign underway tomorrow in Exeter, hoping to find some sort of midweek success going early in the new season. It's not quite the type of midweek action we would have hoped for, but it's football, it's a chance to see some of the less familiar faces get a run out, and, at this point, it's a chance at silverware.
That chance was a lot greater earlier in the past decade---the club reached three finals in five seasons from 2000 to 2005, winning against Birmingham City and Manchester United in the first two and losing by a goal to Chelsea in the 2005 final. Since that time things have been a bit more difficult; they've reached the fifth round twice but failed to progress, and in the past three seasons they haven't made it past the fourth round. And as we're all aware, they lost in their first match of the competition to Northampton Town last season, despite "throwing caution to the wind" in the second half of extra time.
So to say there's not a lot of romance in the competition for Liverpool in recent years would be accurate, and tomorrow's launch against League One opposition Exeter City will be met with a combination of excitement and ambivalence, with a healthy dose of trauma from last year's disastrous display.
The hosts worked their way into the second round with a 2-0 win over Yeovil Town earlier in the month, getting goals from striker Guillem Bauza and Chris Shepard in what was their first victory in the first round since 1993. That's their only win of the season, however, and the only time they've netted more than once in any competition. Their sole point in league came on opening day when they drew away to Stevenage, and they've lost three straight since the win over Yeovil, with Bauza adding to his tally via the penalty spot in the home loss to Brentford.
Who starts for Liverpool?
Flanagan Carragher Skrtel Aurelio
Kuyt Shelvey Maxi
---Beside the standing injuries to Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson, there's likely to be plenty of regulars rested. No news about any new injuries as a result of the weekend's action, but I doubt the squad will include too many of the names we've seen so far this season. Maddeningly, the offal has done away with injury tracker, which is where I got my favorite Fabio Aurelio news, but I'm fairly confident in saying that just Gerrard and Johnson are ruled out.
---Kenny Dalglish spoke earlier in the day about the need to find balance between giving players a chance and avoiding last season's nightmare, which makes for a difficult guess at the starting eleven. It's likely that we'll see Jon Flanagan back in the lineup, and Martin Skrtel could make his return alongside either Jamie Carragher, Danny Wilson, or youngster Andre Wisdom. Carragher was quoted on the importance of tomorrow's match, so it wouldn't be surprising for him to work his way in, but I don't know that Wilson or Wisdom would be overwhelmed. There's also questions at left back, with Jack Robinson or Fabio Aurelio to choose from; it'd be easy to go with Robinson simply because he's younger and not permanently injured, but if Aurelio's fit I wouldn't be surprised to see him start.
---There's also a fairly large number of combinations that could appear in the midfield, with Jay Spearing, Jonjo Shelvey, and Conor Coady all possible. I'd guess they all get the start, with Spearing and Coady deeper and Shelvey more advanced. Dalglish could pick both Kuyt and Maxi to play on either side of Shelvey (or move one of them centrally), giving the midfield a nice mix of youth and experience. Not entirely surprising that we haven't seen Maxi yet, but I'm looking forward to seeing him back in action after the way he finished last season.
---If reports about Bolton's interest are accurate, this could be David Ngog's last match in a Liverpool shirt, and unless Kuyt pushes forward, he'll be going it alone. It seems like Ngog has constantly been in purgatory during his time with the club---not quite ready to break through and make an impact consistently in league, but well accomplished when it comes to facing sides that are less talented. Whether or not he's leaving soon, I think he starts tomorrow, and I wouldn't be surprised if he's on the score sheet.
What's the most important factor for the Reds?
Typically I'm reserved when it comes to the expectations, but I think what's most important for tomorrow is winning, and doing so confidently. For all the talk about squad depth and the development of the club's youth, you'd hope that we see Liverpool put on consistently positive displays across competitions. There's the standard disclaimer about a mix-and-match squad that hasn't spent much time together and the problems that can inherently produce, and that's all very valid. If Liverpool truly do have strength in depth, though, we should get good performances regardless of who's around.
Another match that should be easy to catch live on television---Fox Soccer Plus will have coverage in the US, and Sky Sports 1 will show the match live in the UK. Streams are a little in flux but should be available---MyP2P, one of the best resources online, has had some big changes, so hopefully that'll all be sorted by kickoff tomorrow. We'll carry the links for whatever's available, and please let us know if you find something we don't have.
Until then, enjoy reading about the deal for Sebastian Coates that's been agreed but not finalized and is subject to change and might involve other clubs and his father is talking to everyone but he loves Liverpool.