Well, well, well. Just when you think you know what’s going to happen on a football pitch, the game takes you by surprise. As I wrote in my And Could He Play blog after our game against Sunderland, I was absolutely convinced that we were going to batter them. Sadly things didn’t work out like that, though we kept out hopes of competing for the title alive by getting a regulation 2-0, rather than dropping points and giving David Moyes what he wanted.
Now we welcome Leeds to Anfield for the first time in years, with a side we used to endure full-blooded fixtures with now spending their days fighting it out in the Championship. We’ve faced them three times in the League Cup, winning two and drawing one of those games. Given the injuries we’re having to deal with right now it feels as though simply qualifying for the next round is the important thing, irrespective of the manner we do it in. But how will both sides look when the match kicks-off?
Before a ball was even kicked against Sunderland at the weekend we knew that Daniel Sturridge wasn’t fit. A ‘minor calf strain’ means the England striker will definitely miss this game and may be struggling for our trip to Bournemouth at the weekend. In fact, given his history, it wouldn’t be the biggest shock in football if we didn’t see him again until 2017. Then, midway through the first half of the weekend’s game agonist the Black Cats, Philippe Coutinho went down and didn’t get back up again.
Five to six weeks out looks like the prognosis for the Brazilian, which isn’t as bad as it could have been if we’re all being honest. The midfielder looked to be in an incredible amount of pain and the sight of him leaving the pitch with his ankle in a brace before leaving Anfield on crutches didn’t nothing to allay anyone’s fears. Roberto Firmino also appeared to limp off, though Klopp suggested in his pre-match press conference that he’ll be fine for the weekend. Sturridge, Coutinho and, of course, Ings are our main absences, along with Adam Lallana who won’t be back in time for this one.
All of that said, Jürgen Klopp was always likely to make eleven changes irrespective of the injuries; they merely tell us which players we won’t be seeing in the starting line-up. The only question really is about how weak we go. Klopp tends to take this competition quite seriously, seeing it as a chance to get some silverware in the cabinet nice and early. It’s difficult to know exactly what he’ll do, but my predicted team is: Mignolet – Alexander-Arnold – Klavan – Lucas – Moreno – Stewart – Can – Grujic – Ejaria – Woodburn – Origi.
Leeds manager Gary Monk has impressed since taking over at Elland Road. That’s not based on my knowledge of Leeds, per se, but just that the club’s owner, Massimo Cellino, has lasted a few weeks without sacking him like he has all other managers. The former Swansea City boss has been resting players in previous rounds of the League Cup, but he’s playing his cards close to his chest about whether he intends to do the same thing this time around.
In his pre-match press conference he hinted that he might go strong by saying, “It’s a historic fixture in English football and we have to respect that”. He confused the matter, however, by following that up with the sentence ‘Our young players have a bit of freedom to go there’. My guess is he’ll go somewhere down the middle, putting some of his younger players in with those who’ve got a touch more experience. Certainly the Leeds fans will be hoping to see Silvestri in goal, who they rate much more highly than Rob Green.
The 2-0 win at the weekend meant that Liverpool have now won eleven of their previous fourteen matches in all competitions. The draws against Manchester United, Spurs and Southampton are frustrating, especially as we deserved to win all three games, but we’re definitely in a rich vein of form right now. It’s not a question of whether we’ve got the ability to play or not, just whether the youngsters can carry on where the first-team left off.
For Leeds things are slightly more mixed. Their last ten games in all competitions have seen five wins in 90 minutes, three losses and two draws, though one of the draws came in their penalty win over Norwich in the last round of the EFL Cup. They lost 2-0 at home to Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle a week or so ago but the beat Rotherham 2-1 at the weekend. They sit fifth in the Championship, so any thoughts that this will be a procession for Liverpool should be put to the back of your mind.
This feels like a really tricky one to call. Liverpool’s form remains steady, but the injuries have left the squad somewhat depleted and Leeds will feel as though a shock is more than possible. Bearing it all in mind, then, what should you have a wager on?
Liverpool To Progress
There are two ways to look at the injury crisis slowly enveloping Liverpool: The first is to say that it will leave us short on players and struggling in the busy festive period. The second is to suggest that the squad players such as Divock Origi and Kevin Stewart will use this as a chance to prove their ability to the manager and demand that they’re looked at as serious options moving forward. I’m inclined to lean towards the latter for the time being, with this game a great starting point for them all to get themselves into Klopp’s good books.
With that in mind I think we’re going to progress to the semi-finals. The only thing you need to decide is whether that will be within 90 minutes or if it will take a little more patience. The Reds are 1/9 To Qualify, so there’s not a huge amount of value there. Klopp’s first-choice back five have conceded just 2 goals when they’ve played together, but Mignolet will come back in for this one so the 8/5 available for Liverpool To Win and Both Teams To Score is more interesting to me.
Guessing At A Goalscorer
The trickiest thing for this match is to guess who will score the goals. It’s hard enough trying to figure out who the manager will give game time to, let alone which players will then be able to find the back of the net. There’s a huge amount of buzz around the name Ben Woodburn at the moment and understandably so. The youngster impressed when he played in pre-season and has even earned comparisons with players such as Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen. I think the 6/4 for Woodburn to Score Anytime is therefore worth a nibble.
Another player out to impress is Alberto Moreno. The Spaniard has been a model professional in recent weeks, even as he’s seen an ageing midfielder become the first-choice player for the left-back spot. He burst onto the scene under Brendan Rodgers when he ran the length of White Hart Lane and scored against Spurs what feels like many moons ago now. He’s still a brainless dimwit a lot of the time, but you can get as long as 9/1 for Moreno to Score Anytime and that sounds a bit daft to me.
I do think Leeds will cause us some problems, though, so it would be remiss of me not to mention one or two of their players. Their top-scorer so far this season is Chris Wood who has netted twelve times in all competitions. You can get odds of around 5/2 for Woods to Score Anytime and if you agree that it won’t all be plain sailing for the Reds than that might interest you. Marcus Antonsson is their next highest scorer, but he’s only found the net three times. That said, two of those goals were in this competition so Antonsson to Score Anytime at 7/2 isn’t outrageous.
What should you bet on then, Reds? I think Liverpool To Win and BTTS @ 8/5 is worthy of your money. I’d love to say we’ll boss it but I think it’s going to be close and another 2-1 win like in the last round is probably a safe bet. I also think 9/1 for Moreno to Score Anytime is too long to be ignored.