28 November 2016

Liverpool v Leeds 10.25.16

2:45pm ET, live in the US on beIN Sports.

Last four head-to-head:
1-0 Liverpool (a; League Cup) 09.22.09
2-2 (a) 02.29.04
3-1 Liverpool (h) 10.25.03
3-1 Liverpool (h) 03.23.03

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-0 Sunderland (h); 0-0 Southampton (a); 6-1 Watford (h)
Leeds: 2-1 Rotherham (a); 0-2 Newcastle (h); 3-2 Norwich (a)

Previous rounds:
Liverpool: 2-1 Tottenham (h); 3-0 Derby (a); 5-0 Burton Albion (a)
Leeds: 2-2 Norwich aet [3-2 pens] (h); 1-0 Blackburn (h); 1-0 Luton (a); 2-2 Fleetwood aet [5-4 pens] (a)

Goalscorers (all):
Liverpool: Coutinho, Firmino, Mané 6; Milner 5; Sturridge 4; Lallana, Origi 3; Can, Lovren 2; Henderson, Klavan, Matip, Wijnaldum 1
Leeds: Wood 12; Antonsson 3; Bartley, Doukara, Hernandez 2; Denton, Jansson, Phillips, Sacko, Vieira 1

Referee: Andre Marriner

Guess at a line-up:
Alexander-Arnold Lucas Klavan Moreno
Grujic Stewart Wijnaldum
Mané Origi Ejaria

It's been a long time since Liverpool faced Leeds, a fixture that used to be a serious rivalry, whether in the 70s, 80s, 90s, or very early 2000s. Leeds, mismanaged to near oblivion, have been bad for far too long, and I'm surprisingly pleased to see them at least getting closer to where they should be.

Pity this meeting couldn't happen under more favorable circumstances.

Coutinho's gonna be out for a while. Ugh. And this match comes too soon for Sturridge, Lallana, or Firmino to recover from their minor injuries.

So tomorrow's XI will probably look a lot like that which faced Tottenham in the last round: a seriously young lineup with 11 changes from Liverpool's previous league outing. 10 of those 11 are available – only Sturridge will be missing from that side – and I wouldn't be surprised to see them all. None of those kids – Alexander-Arnold, Grujic, Stewart, Ejaria, or Woodburn – were involved in today's u-23 match.

Who replaces Sturridge? I think it'll be Mané, with Klopp willing to risk one more senior player, but that could be dangerous given Liverpool's casualty list. Maybe it'll be Woodburn, who made his first appearance on Saturday. Maybe Ojo, who's been in training for two weeks now but is yet to even see the bench for the first team. Maybe Wijnaldum moves into attack with Henderson or Can keeping their place in midfield.

Liverpool *could* pick a stronger XI, with Henderson or Can or Matip or Lovren featuring as well. Klopp has often picked stronger-than-expected sides in cup matches. But the Tottenham game seems a more likely precedent. Liverpool have much, much bigger fish to fry this season and the squad's starting to look a little thin, especially in attack.

Currently fifth in the Championship, Leeds have lost just once in the last eight matches, against league-leading Newcastle. They don't score much – almost wholly reliant on Chris Wood – but they don't concede much either, allowing more than two goals in just two matches this season, and not since the end of August. They've a more than competent manager in Garry Monk, who lost all five of his matches against Liverpool while managing Swansea but gave Liverpool serious problems in four of them. They'll play 4-2-3-1, and they'll come at Liverpool, and it'll be up to Liverpool to deal and respond.

Chris Wood is the clear threat. Just 24 and a New Zealand international, playing well for his country each time I've seen him, he's scored 12 goals in all competitions this season. He had 13 in 37 appearances last season. He's a prototypical Championship striker: incredibly strong but skillful enough and quick enough to cause Premier League defenses problems, and very good from open play.

Otherwise, there's little I'm capable of telling you about their side. Rob Green will be in goal; he's often good for a laugh. Kyle Bartley, formerly of Swansea, will anchor their defense. Two former Premier League players, Liam Bridgett and Pablo Hernandez, will miss the match through injury. They've twice needed penalties to advance in this competition, but both of those saw a fairly heavily changed XI. Maybe it's hubris, but I doubt they'll do that when facing Liverpool, and my best guess is an XI similar to that they've used in the last few fixtures: Green; Ayling, Bartley, Jansson, Taylor; Phillips, O'Kane; Sacko, Roofe, Doukara; Wood.

As with every domestic cup match, it's icing on the cake for most fans. A chance to progress further as long as it's not at the expense of more important matters. A chance to see players we haven't seen enough of, especially the kids we've got such high hopes for.

It's up to those players to take their chance.

No comments :