07 January 2017

Liverpool v Plymouth Argyle 01.08.17

8:30am ET, live in the US on Fox Sports 1

Last four head-to-head:
3-2 Liverpool (a) 04.28.62
2-1 Liverpool (h) 12.09.61
1-1 (h) 03.24.61
4-0 Liverpool (a) 11.05.60

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-2 Sunderland (a); 1-0 Manchester City (h); 4-1 Stoke (h)
Plymouth: 0-1 Barnet (a); 2-0 Crawley Town (h); 3-3 Wycombe (h)

Previous rounds:
Liverpool: n/a
Plymouth: 1-0 Newport County aet (a); 0-0 Newport County (h); 2-1 Mansfield (a)

Goalscorers (all):
Liverpool: Mané 9; Firmino, Lallana, Origi 7; Coutinho, Sturridge 6; Milner 5; Can 3; Lovren, Wijnaldum 2; Henderson, Klavan, Matip, Woodburn 1
Plymouth: Carey 10; Jervis 7; Slew, Tanner 5; Bradley, Bulvitis 3; Donaldson, Smith, Songo'o, Spencer, Threlkeld 2; Fox, Garita 1

Referee: Paul Tierney

Guess at a line-up:
Alexander-Arnold Lucas Gomez Moreno
Eiaria Stewart Wijnaldum
Ojo Origi Woodburn

This won't be last season's XIs against Exeter, mainly because yikes look at that defense, but we won't be far off either. After a packed, tiring festive schedule with few changes to Liverpool's lineups, we'll certainly see loads tomorrow.

And, for the most part, the line-up seems to write itself.

Milner, Henderson, and Sturridge are dealing with injuries and won't be risked, as are Grujic and Brannagan. Coutinho and Matip are close to returning, but aren't there yet. Mané's now with Senegal at the African Cup of Nations, for at least the next couple of weeks.

So it pretty much has to be Karius in goal, Lucas and Gomez as center-backs, Alexander-Arnold and Moreno at full-back. Stewart and Ejaria in midfield. Origi up front, with Woodburn and Ojo – who's probably the most doubtful given his season-long struggles with injury – on the flanks.

Even after filling the line-up with the expected youngsters and back-ups, Liverpool still have at least one midfield spot for a senior player. Lallana's probably the least likely given his mind-boggling efforts over the last couple of weeks, so it's seemingly whether Klopp wants Wijnaldum's link-play or Can's physicality, provided each is at the appropriate fitness level. The only reason I've guessed Wijnaldum is because I remain concerned about Henderson's heel and his availability over the next couple of weeks, which means Can will be absolutely necessary in filling that position. I also may still be a little cranky about Can's performance against Sunderland.

Maybe Lovren or Klavan keep their place in defense, also allowing Lucas to play in midfield if so desired. Maybe Firmino is used on the flanks in place of either Woodburn or Ojo. But those are pretty much the only other options. On a unrelated note, it doesn't look like Liverpool are planning to buy anyone in the January transfer window.

Meanwhile, Plymouth Argyle are second in League Two, four points behind Doncaster. They were in a similar position a year ago before losing in the promotion playoff final. I approve of this match-up almost solely because these sides haven't met in more than 50 years, since Liverpool were last in the second division.

And I won't insult either your or my knowledge by pretending to know much more than that. Both This is Anfield and The Anfield Wrap have helpful interviews with Plymouth supporters, who both point out the dangers of Plymouth's top scorer, Graham Carey, who'll play as the #10.

The ever-excellent Ben Mayhew has Plymouth has one of the better attacks in League Two and a competent but relatively busy defense: see his attacking and defensive scatter plots and E Ratings. Plymouth have also over-performed their Expected Goals nearly all season.

Finally, I'll point to Who Scored's preview, which is where I'm getting a guess at Plymouth's XI. McCormick; Miller, Songo'o, Bradley, Threlkeld; Smith, Fox; Jervis, Carey, Donaldson; Slew – which seems to be pretty much the first-choice XI. I will readily admit I've never heard of any of these players, let alone seen them play. My bad. There is one former Liverpool academy player on Plymouth's books – Jakub Sokolik – but he signed for Argyle literally three days ago, and he's not eligible to play having already featured for Southend in the competition.

With Liverpool second in the league and in the League Cup semi-finals, this competition's clearly third on the totem pole. But it remains a chance for the back-ups to prove their worth more playing time, and a chance for needed players such as Ojo and Gomez to make the necessary first steps after a difficult, injury-ridden campaign.

"Magic of the FA Cup," whatever, be damned. It's another competition. But it's a competition that Liverpool are in, so it's a match that Liverpool will want to win.

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