23 August 2011

Liverpool at Exeter City 08.24.11

2:45pm ET, live in the US on Fox Soccer Plus

Last four head-to-head:
6-0 Liverpool (a, League Cup) 10.28.81
5-0 Liverpool (h, League Cup) 10.07.81
2-0 Liverpool (h, League Cup) 10.30.79
3-1 Liverpool (h, FA Cup) 01.28.50

Recent matches:
Liverpool: 2-0 Arsenal (a); 1-1 Sunderland (h)
Exeter:0-1 Preston (a); 1-2 Brentford (h); 0-2 MK Dons (h)

Referee: Tony Bates

Guess at a line-up:
Flanagan Skrtel Wilson Robinson
Spearing Coady
Shelvey Meireles Maxi

Complete guess, but my suspicion it'll be an under-strength line-up. Just not as under-strength as we saw for the majority of preseason. As usual, this cup's best served by blooding youth and giving the poor sucker stuck behind Pepe Reina some playing time, but it has been a while since Liverpool's had a decent cup run. And you'd think the squad's finally deep enough to support one, especially without European competition.

The likely lineup includes those who have been on Liverpool's bench in the last couple of games – Skrtel, Meireles, Spearing, Doni, Ngog, Maxi, Flanagan, etc – plus a few other youngsters. Meireles is working his way back to fitness, hasn't started yet, and didn't really have a preseason. It makes sense for him to feature here; it's not a slight to play him with the kids in the second round of everyone's favorite cup competition. Similar goes for Skrtel.

However, there seems little point in playing the likes of Cole or Poulsen. It's clear they've no future and no amount of time in the shop window will help their fee. Ngog would be in the same boat, but Liverpool lack for a fourth-choice striker if Carroll, Suarez, and Kuyt are to be rested. Kuyt seems the most likely of the three if it comes to that; Dalglish spoke of mismanaging Carroll's fitness last season and Suarez was left out for Arsenal because of fatigue concerns.

Liverpool will certainly be wary of repeating last year's Carling Cup low point, but I expect Dalglish will have big names on the bench just in case. Starting Suarez, Downing, Carroll, Kuyt, Lucas, Adam, etc. seems madness, even without Europe. Most of the above XI has played together, whether at the Academy, in the reserves, or in the first team; it's not a mix of misfits and debutantes like Hodgson picked against the Cobblers. More importantly, the side won't be playing with Hodgson's tactics. Looking back at the lineup, that team had absolutely no business of losing, form be damned.

Everything I know about Exeter I learned from the club's official site and this outstanding season preview of all 72 Football League sides. After finishing eighth last season, the Grecians' lone win of the season to date came against Yeovil in the first round of this competition. Through five games, Exeter's only scored at home – twice against Yeovil and a consolation from the spot against Brentford. Evidently, they're struggling to replace last season's top scorer Jamie Cureton and midfielder Ryan Harley. I vaguely remember striker Daniel Nardiello from when he was a trainee at United, but couldn't pick him out of a police line-up. That's all I got. Sorry. Seems safer not to pretend.

Liverpool last entered the League Cup at the second round in 1999, a side effect of being out of Europe for the first time since that season. Exeter will look to replicate their 2005 FA Cup feat in holding United at Old Trafford to earn a second money-spinning attempt. Thankfully, the Carling Cup doesn't have replays – as we found out against Northampton – but the Grecians have previous against Premiership sides in knockout competition. And Liverpool, sadly, have previous in this competition.

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