Liverpool fielded an inexperienced side against Arsenal in the League Cup at Anfield and still came through a rollercoaster night, winning 5-4 on penalties.
Liverpool 5-5 Arsenal (5-4 on pens)
League Cup Fourth Round, Anfield
October 30, 2019
Goals: Mustafi OG 6’, Milner 43’, Oxlade-Chamberlain 58’, Origi 63’, 90+4′; Torreira 19’, Martinelli 26’, 36’, Maitland-Niles 54’, Willock 70’
This should have been expected, somewhere along the line.
A goalkeeper making his second senior appearance, a debutant right-back and a first start at centre-back, all protected by the positional inexperience of Adam Lallana.
Arsenal got in far too often between centre-back and full-back, but that’s a consequence of not having those in place who have faced that situation dozens and dozens of times over.
There were, amid the natural consequences of not knowing the game at this level, a few more immediate concerns.
Sepp van den Berg looks well off the pace at this point, struggling even to shift his feet quickly enough at times and being involved in a negative sense in all three of Arsenal‘s first-half goals.
Experience only comes with games, so there can’t be criticism of the players getting a chance, but those at the back found it hard to shine tonight.
Even so, the pressure and being at Anfield for such a fixture should only be a positive for their futures—and Neco Williams simply grew into the game, more and more, and came up with a vital cross for the late equaliser.
Another Step for Ox
A couple of goals on his last start, then a goal and an assist for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on this one—it’s always pleasing to see end product in the final third from the midfield.
He started this game in fine fashion, involved in the channels and eagerly running deep, though the lack of control the Reds had at times meant he wasn’t consistently involved.
There were instances where perhaps he could have been a little more on top of matters defensively, helping out Williams in particular, but in the second half Ox was one of those who began to drag the Reds back into the encounter.
His goal was absolutely thunderous, the best perhaps on a night filled with at least three or four top-class strikes, and his energy, adventurous play and willingness to attack the box was key.
Seniors Lacking Rhythm
The mix of youth and fringe seniors is picked with a balance in mind, protecting those without the in-game street smarts and supporting exuberance with know-how.
This time, it didn’t really go that way.
Lallana started well, winning a few challenges and spraying the ball about with confidence, but it didn’t last.
A couple of rash tackles, one of which resulted in a yellow card, and a host of occasions where he lost possession in dangerous areas showed his lack of rhythm and exposed his team.
Often he was keen to push forward, which was admirable in its way, but his role was one which necessitated more control than he offered.
James Milner was quiet, gifted a goal away with a short back-pass just as the Reds were clawing their way back into the match and couldn’t provide service from left-back.
And Naby Keita, looking for form as he regains fitness, was entirely anonymous—before departing with yet another injury, it appears.
Each have contributed in a big way previously, so this should be a timely reminder to Klopp that he must keep those fringe players involved and in shape, so they are really ready when the Reds most need them.
Finally, remember those seasons when we needed to score four or five to be fairly certain of winning the game? This was a nice throwback to life before Van Dijk…
Curtis Jones, a Standout off the Bench
Unfortunate not to start, perhaps, after being Man of the Match in the last round—but Curtis Jones really showed his worth off the bench.
His touch was exemplary, he used the ball well in tight spaces and provided an assist for Divock Origi‘s first goal with a well-weighted, forward-thinking pass.
Whether roving through the centre or making gains down the channels, Jones is happy to receive the ball with the pressure on and is capable of making things happen in the final third.
Expect to see a fair bit more of him this season.
A word, too, for Rhian Brewster—he didn’t score, but this was a very, very good performance all the same.
Endeavour, work rate, clever movement, high-intensity pressing and a willingness to put in challenges are all absolute staples for a youngster who aims to mimic the service provided by Roberto Firmino, and he had it all on the night.
A real step forward and he should be very much encouraged.
Two More for Rotation and Another Step in the Cup
We’re into the last eight, which should mean another game for many of the inexperienced players, and that’s a big positive.
We still have the opportunity to fight for another piece of silverware, and that’s another.
Losing at Anfield is frowned upon these days, and the Reds fought every second of the game to avoid that scenario.
In the more immediate future, there are two upcoming fixtures which should be winnable, but should also allow Klopp to continue changing the lineup somewhat: Aston Villa in the Premier League, Genk in the Champions League.
Get several of these fringe players more minutes, while resting one or two guaranteed starter for another match—and still getting the win, of course—and the vast majority of the squad might be fit and fighting for places when it comes to the big one, at Anfield against Man City.
A complete rollercoaster of a night, but the eventual positives heavily outweigh any negatives of certain parts of the match.