A heavily rotated Liverpool side suffered their first defeat of the season in a 2-1 loss to Chelsea, ensuring another third-round exit from the League Cup.
Liverpool 1-2 Chelsea
League Cup Third Round, Anfield
September 26, 2018
Goals: Sturridge 59′; Emerson 79′, Hazard 85′
Shaqiri & Sturridge Double Act
A lack of cohesion and the first defeat of the season can often overlook the positives that lie within, and for Liverpool that was the work of Daniel Sturridge and Xherdan Shaqiri.
Over the past week the pair have each been handed their first starts of the season, with Sturridge impressing in his outing against Paris Saint-Germain, before Shaqiri was the catalyst for the comfortable win over Southampton.
In the knowledge that their role in the side will primarily be from the substitutes’ bench, their opportunities to make an impact are limited, but the pair did their chances no harm against the Blues.
The Switzerland international was positive on the ball and often appeared to be the route to goal for the Reds, while Sturridge capped his performance with a stunning goal—and he could have easily had two had he not fluffed his lines in front of an open goal.
While individually the duo looked impressive it was their work in tandem which also caught the eye, with Sturridge’s movement closer to the midfield showcasing his ball disposal which opened space for him to link up with the former Stoke man.
The past week has only gone to show Liverpool can rely on the pair to make an impact, whether it be from the starting whistle or from the bench.
Fabinho’s Mixed Debut
After a bout of early nerves, the Brazilian settled into his first start for Liverpool with mixed results after taking over the deep-lying midfield position from Jordan Henderson.
It was a highly anticipated debut for Fabinho after finding himself more of a project for Jurgen Klopp at Melwood than starring under the lights at Anfield so far this season, but he showed why the manager has held him back.
The former Monaco man was not shy when it came to demanding the ball, but he looked unsure of where to position himself as Liverpool made their transitions from defence into attack, and vice versa.
A disjointed lineup will have done little to settle him into the team, but there should be no doubts about the quality he will add to the side when fully adjusted to Liverpool’s style of play.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s start to life at Anfield offers the perfect example – the England international was underwhelming to say the least as he made his debut in the same competition just over a year ago, only to become an integral member of Klopp’s side before suffering a cruel injury blow.
Fabinho grew in stature as the game wore on, but with the need to chase the game he was pulled from action, with better days most certainly on the horizon.
Gulf in Quality in Defensive Ranks
This game demonstrated how much the Reds have improved defensively over the last year as a lack cohesion was apparent from the first whistle.
The second-string back five was one which Liverpool fielded as their first choice at the start of last season, and it only served to prompt reflection on the progress which has been made between then and now.
None—bar Joel Matip—had kicked a ball for Liverpool’s first team this term and there was always going to be a settling-in period as the cobwebs were blown away, but they never looked convincing.
Alberto Moreno was consistently outmuscled and outmanoeuvred by Victor Moses on the flank, particularly when Chelsea were on top in the first half, with the rash tackles and a lack of efficiency on the ball quickly resurfacing.
The slight panic and indecisiveness which plagued their time as a defensive unit spread throughout the side, showcasing the calmness and proficient distribution the likes of Virgil van Dijk provide week in and week out.
Furthermore, the balance Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson bring to the table in both attack and defence was made abundantly clear.
The defeat suggests this is could be one of the last times this back five collectively take to the field, and there may be little objection to that fact.
Defeat Ensures Lack of Future Opportunities
“I really see it as an opportunity,” those words were uttered by Klopp prior to the encounter where he was always expected to ring in the changes.
The League Cup is a competition which is deemed one of the ‘easiest’ pieces of silverware to claim, but it also throws up rare opportunities for youth and fringe players alike to impress the manager.
Striking a balance between competing and keeping players fresh is hard to find, and it can often rely on the level of opposition at each stage of the draw.
For Liverpool, the League Cup was tipped to be a platform for Fabinho to find his groove, Nathaniel Clyne and Moreno to rediscover their form and keep fresh, but an early knockout has ensured that plan will not come to fruition—akin to last year.
It is not foreign ground for the Reds to be knocked out in the third round having fallen to a similar defeat against Leicester City last season, a result which had consequences for the likes of Ben Woodburn and Dominic Solanke, who then had their game time severely hindered.
The impact is still in effect as Solanke failed to find any level of rhythm and that has carried over to the current campaign.
With ambitions to make a tilt for the Premier League title and have yet another successful run in the Champions League, opportunities for Klopp to hand players games will now be severely restricted—unless injury or suspension forces his hand.
Regular Starters Fresh for League Rematch
Klopp made a host of changes for the encounter at Anfield having opted to introduce eight fresh faces from the win over Southampton, following a run of three matches in 11 days preceding Chelsea’s visit.
The ever-present Alisson, Robertson, Alexander-Arnold, Gini Wijnaldum and Van Dijk were all absent from the matchday squad, with the latter still under an injury cloud after aggravating a lingering rib injury.
Moreover, two of the Reds’ formidable attacking trio in Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino took their place on the bench, with the pair each making an appearance late on.
Jordan Henderson’s introduction on the hour mark in place of James Milner was pre-planned with Saturday’s clash in mind, and with a further run of three games in an 11-day window it was a welcome sight.
Despite the sweeping changes failing to bring about a victory, the simple ability to rotate the squad is something Liverpool have failed to do over the past few years—preventing both the opportunity to keep regular members of the first team fresh, while also offering a chance for fringe players to stake their claim for a more prominent role.
While the long-term impact of the loss will affect the latter, as mentioned, a well-rested Liverpool lineup will now be expected to make a statement against Chelsea on Saturday with a victory of their own.