3pm ET, live in the US on Fox Sports 1
Last four head-to-head:
3-1 Liverpool (a; League Cup) 08.24.11
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
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-0 Stoke (a); 0-2 West Ham (a); 1-0 Sunderland (a)
Exeter: 1-2 Dag & Red (h); 0-2 Wimbledon (h); 0-3 Oxford (a)
Exeter: 2-0 Port Vale (h); 3-0 Didcot Town (A)
Liverpool: Benteke 7; Coutinho 5; Orig, Sturridgei 4; Ibe, Ings, Milner 3; Lallana 2; Can, Clyne, Firmino, Henderson, Skrtel 1
Exeter: Nichols 8; Wheeler 7; Nicholls 6; Harley 5; Grant 3; Holmes, Morrison 2; Brown, Davies, Hoskins, McCready, Oyeleke, Reid, Ribeiro, Tillson, Watkins 1
Referee: Stuart Attwell
Guess at a line-up:
Randall Can Lucas Smith
Ibe Lallana Teixeira
A foreign manager in a new league. A debilitated Liverpool squad, rife with injuries and overworked through participation in four competitions. Underwhelming in the league, but in the semifinals of the League Cup, taking a 1-0 lead into the second leg, and in the knockout rounds in European competition.
Dudek; Raven, Hyypia, Whitbread, Traore; Biscan, Welsh; Nuñez, Potter, Warnock; Sinama Pongolle.
I can't help but worry about the parallels between tomorrow's match and the 2004-05 loss at Burnley, a 0-1 defeat graced by Djimi Traore's glorious Zidane Drag-back. Which became proof that Rafa Benitez didn't get English football and didn't care about the country's premiere cup competition. Or something.
Klopp's Liverpool are in all-too-similar situation. He's supposedly "been found out" by English football, and Liverpool's current squad is even more unbalanced, fatigued, and injury-ridden than the 2004-05 version. In theory, this year's is stronger. In practice, *glares at 11-player-long injury list*.
Klopp's damned if he does and damned if he doesn't tomorrow. A full-strength line-up's completely out of the question, but the last thing that Liverpool need is even more injuries and even more fatigued players going into matches against Arsenal and United, as well as the second semi-final leg against Stoke. Too strong, and Liverpool could and probably would pay for it in subsequent matches. Too weak, and the foreigner's disrespecting English football again and Liverpool are in crisis and etc etc.
Liverpool literally have no fit center-backs. Toure's out for a week, Lovren for two or three, Skrtel for another month, and no one (outside of the club, that is) is really sure about Sakho. Lucas, having played there against Stoke, seemed certain to start as one of the two CBs, but will he partner Can – two central midfielders as center-backs, most likely in front of a rarely-tested Bogdan and alongside one or two youth full-backs? Will Ilori or Wisdom be recalled from their loans in time? One of the u-21 center-backs: Cleary or Brewitt? I hear that Jose Enrique's played some center-back for the u-21s…
Liverpool's full-backs – especially Clyne – desperately need a match off, but can Liverpool rest both while changing the rest of the defense as well? Sure, why not.
Otherwise, at least there will be some familiar faces in the front six. I've gone for five who often start along with Teixeira – last seen against Bournemouth in the League Cup – but Klopp could make even more changes. Brannagan and Chirivella are possibilities in midfield; Ojo and Kent have been recalled from loans at Wolves and Coventry.
That Benteke – Liverpool's only fit out-and-out striker – will start seems the only certainty at the business end of the pitch, especially since Firmino could do with a game off after five successive starts. A rough and tumble cup tie on what'll almost certainly be a gopher hole pitch? Go bang into some people and bang in some goals, Christian.
Meanwhile, Exeter are currently 16th in League Two. They've lost their last four matches. They got whomped 6-3 by Sunderland in a League Cup meeting back in August. Sunderland! Six goals! Paul Tisdale has been Exeter's manager for the last decade; only Arsene Wegner's been at the same English club for longer. They don't score often – only five of the 24 League Two sides have scored fewer – but until this four-match losing stretch, they hadn't conceded all that often either, exactly middle of the league for goals allowed.
I am familiar with one (1) of their players: Clinton Morrison, who had Premier League spells with Birmingham and Palace around a decade ago, scoring four goals against Liverpool from 2001-2003. He's 36 now. At most, he'll feature off the bench.
Just one of the Exeter players who started in the 2011 League Cup tie with Liverpool is still at the club – midfielder David Noble – although current top-scorer Tom Nichols came off the bench that night.
That's all I got. In all Exeter regards, your guess is as good as mine.
It's dismissive, it's rude, and it might even be overly optimistic, but if Liverpool do what Liverpool should do and Liverpool do what Liverpool are capable of doing, Liverpool will win, regardless of the XI. Liverpool are a Premier League side, Exeter are a League Two side, magic of the FA Cup be damned.
But the lesson of Burnley – who, admittedly was a Championship club at the time – can't be forgotten either. Maybe the parallels are closer with the 2-2 loss to Northampton Town in the 2010-11 League Cup, another League Two side, but you compare a Hodgson side to a Klopp side, because I'm not doing so.
What really matters is that Liverpool match Exeter's work-rate, willingness, and effort. Exeter might have more important matches this season if they somehow plummet from lower mid-table into the relegation battle, but Exeter won't have any more prominent matches – on national and international television for the first and probably last time this season.
Whatever Liverpool do, Liverpool cannot take their opponents lightly, Liverpool cannot simply show up. But at least that rarely seems to be an issue with Jürgen Klopp's teams.