Brendan Rodgers’ Reds return to Anfield looking to make an immediate return to winning ways in the League Cup. Ben Twelves discusses the team selection options for the Liverpool manager ahead of the clash.
Liverpool play their first cup tie of the season on Tuesday when they take on championship side Middlesbrough, and the Reds will once again have to respond to a poor defeat at the first time of asking if they want to progress to the next stage of the competition.
A woeful display in east London last time out – void of any of the positive attributes we’ve come to expect from a Rodgers team – combined with the defensive issues that continue to cost so dearly, is becoming a real concern as Liverpool embark on an extremely slow start to the season.
Any thoughts of a shot at the title are bordering on completely delusional at this current stage and with a top four place no guarantee, the Reds need to improve extremely quickly, starting on Tuesday night.
Team Selection Options
The dreadful performance against West Ham could see Rodgers look at the fixture in two ways. Firstly, the Liverpool boss could use the match as an opportunity to play a strong team in the hope of producing a good performance for what would be only the second time this season ahead of the Merseyside derby next weekend.
Option two, is that alternatively, Rodgers could rest the remaining of the fit players at his disposal and rotate them with squad players and youngsters, giving the senior player’s time to prepare for Saturday’s derby clash.
The second choice seems the most likely and is certainly the sensible option – we’ve already seen how needless injuries impact on the team this season – and therefore changes should be aplenty for the match against the team from the second tier.
BR: No Sturridge, Can, Allen or Johnson. Henderson has a knock, needs to be assessed. Phil highly unlikely. 1 or 2 youngster may get a go.
— MB (@MrBoywunder) September 22, 2014
Amongst those changes would include leaving Steven Gerrard out of the squad altogether as his ageing legs becoming an increasing problem, and players who have featured heavily such as Alberto Moreno, Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana, Raheem Sterling and Mario Balotelli should be given the night off.
Resting those who are sure to start next weekend opens spaces in the team for players yet to feature this season. Rickie Lambert will receive a dream first start for the club and Fabio Borini should play again as he searches for form in front of goal. Brad Jones, Jose Enrique, Kolo Toure, Lucas Leiva and Suso should all come into the side alongside the two strikers.
Rodgers: "Rickie will start. He is a great technician."
— James Pearce (@JamesPearceLFC) September 22, 2014
The inclusion of those seven players leave four spaces which will have to be filled by some of the preferred starting players within the squad. After beginning on the bench and looking unsettled when he came on, Mamadou Sakho should start alongside Toure – resting what seems to be the preferred pairing of Skrtel and Lovren – and with Glen Johnson injured, Javier Manquillo could once continue at right back.
After sitting on the bench for the duration last Saturday, Lazar Markovic would benefit from match minutes and he should start. A shirt in the midfield is up for grabs and 18-year-old Cameron Brannagan – who’s had previous involvement with the first team squad and has impressed for the under21s – should be afforded the shirt.
Formation and Line Up
The diamond shape came unstuck for the first time against Sam Allrdyce’s side but with it still the set-up that Liverpool look most comfortable with, it should be deployed again Tuesday night. With the changes outlined and the 4-diamond-2 formation, this is how Liverpool should start the match:
Alternatively, the Liverpool boss could look to field a stronger team in an attempt to return to winning ways at the first opportunity and could also switch to a 4-3-3 shape again as his side continue in their attempts to adapt.
If so, Gerrard should remain rested, but Mignolet and the back five that started at the Boelyn Ground and clearly needs more work should start in search of stability. The rest of the team outside of the defensive unit should be rested and rotated as best available however.
Those changes would see Liverpool line up like so:
Brendan Rodgers is under his first period of pressure since becoming Liverpool boss over two years ago, as the same issues continue to disrupt the Ulsterman’s momentum this early season.
A win over Middlesbrough isn’t going to change anything drastically but the manner of the performance could well serve a purpose for a team struggling for form at the early stage of the season, ahead of Saturday’s first Merseyside match of the season.