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Last four head-to-head:
2-2 (a; FA Cup) 01.08.16
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
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-1 United (h); 3-3 Arsenal (h); 2-2 Exeter (a)
Exeter: 3-1 Leyton Orient (a); 1-1 Morecambe (a); 2-2 Liverpool (h)
Liverpool: 2-2 Exeter (a)
Exeter: 2-2 Liverpool (h); 2-0 Port Vale (h); 3-0 Didcot Town (A)
Liverpool: Benteke 7; Coutinho 5; Origi, Sturridge 4; Firmino, Ibe, Ings, Milner 3; Lallana 2; Allen, Can, Clyne, Henderson, Sinclair, Skrtel, Smith 1
Exeter: Nichols 10; Wheeler 7; Nicholls 6; Harley 5; Grant, Holmes, Stockley 3; Morrison 2; Brown, Davies, Hoskins, McCready, Oyeleke, Reid, Ribeiro, Tillson, Watkins 1
Referee: Neil Swarbrick
Guess at a line-up:
Randall Lucas Ilori Smith
Kent Teixeira Ojo
There won't be many, if any, changes from the side that drew at Exeter two weeks ago, and rightfully so. The squad's still too injured, too fatigued, and – honestly – too mediocre. Either the kids will be alright, or they won't be.
Both Danny Ward and Steven Caulker – recalled from loan and signed on loan respectively – aren't eligible, as both (re)joined Liverpool after the first meeting. Which means the center-back situation is still ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ and either Bogdan or Mignolet will start in goal and otherwise, probably the same as last time.
As long as Liverpool don't start Jose Enrique again, I'm not especially bothered by who plays at center-back. But it's not as if Liverpool have many, any options. Toure and Sakho have started two matches in the last week. Skrtel's still injured, Lovren's probably still injured, Dan Cleary's making his comeback from injury with the u21s tonight. Flanagan *can* play at center-back, but he'll be on the bench at best, at least. Can Kevin Stewart, used as a midfielder last time, but having featured as a full-back in previous Liverpool preseasons, play at center-back? How about left-back Joe Maguire, who came on when Ilori pulled up with cramp late in the last meeting?
So, Liverpool's options are either Toure or Sakho, respite be damned; Can or Lucas, preferred position and respite be damned; or one of the above probably-far-fetched square pegs in round holes. As long as its not Jose Enrique. I'll guess Lucas, even though he played 90 hard minutes against United, because he's at least not likely to start against Norwich on Saturday. And because he's not Jose Enrique.
Sheyi Ojo replacing Jerome Sinclair – solely because of the news that Sinclair won't sign a new deal and will leave in the summer – is my only other guessed change. Also, Ojo's great, the player I'm most excited to see tomorrow. Maybe the underused Joe Allen comes into midfield. Maybe Sinclair starts anyway, with or in place of the struggling Benteke. Whatever. Just play as you did last time, but a bit better, as you've gotten 90 minutes of match practice and more than half a training session. And don't concede two stupid goals either.
I wouldn't expect many, if any, changes for Exeter either. Since drawing with Liverpool, they've drawn with 13th-placed Morecambe, a point ahead of Exeter in the table, and beaten 11th-placed Leyton Orient, three points ahead of Exeter in the table. Remember, Exeter had lost four consecutive matches before the draw with Liverpool.
They've a new loan signing as well – Jayden Stockley, with three goals in the last two games – who's ineligible. Their second-top scorer, David Wheeler, still hasn't featured since missing the first meeting through injury. Aside from Stockley, the only change from the first Liverpool match and the weekend win over Orient was Butterfield rather than Tillson – who's usually a defender – in midfield. Butterfield gave away two penalties, both missed, in that match.
Let's assume Exeter deploy the same XI. And even if there are one or two changes, let's assume Exeter are still Exeter, basically the archetype of a League Two side. They're hard-working and physical. There will be lots of tackles and lots of running. They like to counter-attack and like to cross – two features which Liverpool often struggle with. Ben Mayhew's outstanding scatter plot graphics show how they're basically league average as far as attack and defense goes – a bit better in attack, a bit worse in defense, both demonstrated in the last meeting – which is in line with their current mid-table position. But, as in the last meeting, expect Exeter to play 50% better than usual, because it's against Liverpool, because it's at Anfield, seizing an opportunity they wouldn't normally (and may not again) ever have.
But, this time, Liverpool's kids and exiles will have had more than half a training session of time together. Liverpool's kids and exiles will be on a pitch actually conducive to playing football. Liverpool's kids and exiles will be in front of their own. Liverpool's kids and exiles again have a chance to prove their worth and stake a claim for a place in the side and a place in the next round.
This competition has become the lowest priority, at least at the moment, due to injuries, a shallow squad, and participation in the League Cup semifinals. But it's still a priority, made even more so by the participation of those kids and exiles, who have chances they normally wouldn't receive.
If Liverpool do what Liverpool should – which is never a certainty – Liverpool will win. But it's up to those kids and exiles to make full use of their chances.