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Liverpool travel to the West Midlands in the third round of the League Cup, where they're expected to field a very young side against the team that handed them a 3-0 loss on the opening day of the Premier League season.
There's a mix of apprehension and excitement for tomorrow's match, which is a feeling I'd imagine we'll be experiencing thorughout the season, particularly when it comes to cup competition both on the continent and domestically. Brendan Rodgers has already shown his intent in the Europa League, and with the stakes seemingly a bit lower when it comes to the League Cup, there's little reason to change an approach that'll see many of the club's younger squad members get meaningful senior squad action.
Which, as I mentioned, is both exciting and cause for hesitation--Liverpool should always set out to win football matches, and the only concern with bleeding the youngsters is that they'll give the impression that these matches are little more than an opportunity for rest for the first team and a run-out for the kids. Which it is, but that doesn't necessarily mean that Rodgers and company don't care; if the win in Switzerland is anything to go off of, the teams Rodgers selects in these competitions will have a chance to be successful while also gaining critical experience.
That tomorrow's date is with Premier League opposition adds to the hesitation bit, although there's not necessarily much reason to think that an away date in Berne should be any less challenging than the Hawthorns. Unless you ask someone from England who doesn't watch anything but English football, then Liverpool and its toddlers are hosed because BEST LEAGUE IN THE WORLD UNPREDICTABLE EXPLOSIONS SNARF SNARF BRAVERY.
Steve Clarke's squad has pushed on from their second-half humbling of Liverpool with seven more points from their next four matches, sandwiching a poor performance in their own 0-3 result at Fulham with home wins over Everton and Reading. They've also earned a draw at White Hart Lane, and in their lone League Cup fixture they scored two goals in either half at Yeovil Town for a 4-2 victory.
A few faces from the 3-0 win to start the season featured in the Yeovil Town win; Shane Long and Zoltan Gera started in both, and Chris Brunt, Youssuf Mulumbu, and Marc Antoine-Fortune each took part in both as well. Against Yeovil, Clarke opted for Boaz Myhill in goal, Gonzalo Jara, Craig Dawson, Billy Jones, and Gabriel Tamas across the back, with Yassine El Ghanassy, Brunt, George Thorne, and Gera in the midfield and Long partnering Markus Rosenberg in attack.
Wisdom Coates Carragher Enrique
Downing Morgan Assaidi
Liverpool's injury list grew after Sunday's loss to United, but as far as tomorrow goes there don't seem to be any names that would have been in contention tomorrow popping up--Martin Kelly and Lucas are long-term, Daniel Agger's knee injury will keep him out indefinitely, Fabio Borini's ankle knock is going to be enough to keep him away from live action tomorrow for sure, and Jonjo Shelvey will serve the first of his three-match ban. Jon Flanagan might be the only one of the younger/fringe players who's ruled out, as he missed the trip to Switzerland last week.
I'm not really sure what happens in defense, other than that it's likely we'll see Andre Wisdom and Jose Enrique again. Whether or not Wisdom's at right-back depends on Flanagan's fitness; if so, maybe Wisdom partners Jamie Carragher in the middle and Sebastian Coates is rested for the weekend. If not, Wisdom has to fill the void on the right, leaving Carragher and Coates as the likely pairing. Outside chance that Danny Wilson--who is, in fact, still alive--and maybe Stephen Sama are included, and there's the possibility that Stewart Downing gets a start at fullback, with depth in defense at a legitimate crisis point.
Midfield is, thankfully, much clearer, with Jordan Henderson and Nuri Şahin likely to partner again in central midfield, and Suso given another chance further forward. All three impressed in their own right, and both Henderson and Suso did well in their respective substitute appearances on Sunday, with the latter looking right at home in one of the biggest matches of the season.
Across the front, Downing is likely to be back after being left out of the squad to face United, and two of Adam Morgan, Oussama Assaidi, Samed Yesil, and Dani Pacheco will complete the forward line. Assaidi needs time and fitness and seems a safe bet, leaving Morgan or Pacheco to operate centrally. We all like Pacheco well enough, but he was unconvincing in Switzerland, so I'll guess Morgan makes his way back in after not featuring since the draw with Hearts at Anfield.
Much of what needs to be said about tomorrow is a repeat of what we talked about before the opening match of the group stage in the Europa League--it's clear where Liverpool's priorities lie, and that this competition, much like the Europa League, will offer a chance to see more of the squad in matches that truly count. As I mentioned above, that's terrific and horrifying and anxiety-inducing, but what's most important is that Liverpool line themselves up to win every match they take part in. That's happened more frequently in cups than it has in league to this point, and let's hope the only thing that changes about that trend is that the results in league start to come around.
Right now there aren't any listings for live coverage in the US or England, with the match set to kick off at 8:00PM BST/3:00PM EST. I'd imagine something comes available as the start time approaches, but as of now there's nothing we can pass along. We'll leave the Ways to Watch section as part of the matchday thread in hopes that something pops up, and we'll be sure to have the team sheets up around an hour before kickoff.
Also, just a heads up that we're going to use this match to tinker with one of our new features--we can run all the match coverage as part of one longer story stream, and we're thinking of including the preview, matchday, and recap posts in that. We'll see how it goes and how it's received, assuming we don't make a complete hash of it. Which we inevitably will, but still. New toys.