Jurgen Klopp is set to make 11 changes as Liverpool visit League One side Lincoln in the third round of the League Cup, with the possibility of at least two debuts.
The Reds travel to Sincil Bank looking to continue their strong start to the campaign, having produced an emphatic display on the way to a 2-0 win at Chelsea on Sunday.
Thursday will bring a much different proposition in Lincoln, and Klopp will ensure his players don’t underestimate Michael Appleton’s side, who have taken five victories from five so far this season.
It is clear, though, that with Arsenal to come on Monday night, Liverpool will be much-changed from their Premier League side, and this could give opportunities to a host of players.
That may include any or all of the club’s three summer signings, along with those on the fringes looking to break into the starting side.
Injuries and solutions
Speaking in his pre-match press conference on Wednesday, Klopp’s assistant manager Pepijn Lijnders confirmed that Joe Gomez, Joel Matip and Jordan Henderson will be unavailable at Lincoln.
They join Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the treatment table, with Billy Koumetio also likely to miss out as he faces a late fitness test for a minor issue.
With that quintet ruled out, along with the remainder of the side that started at Stamford Bridge, there are a number of solutions that Klopp could turn to within his squad.
Adrian is near-guaranteed to stand in for Alisson between the sticks, and Neco Williams and Kostas Tsimikas should start at full-back, with the latter making his debut at left-back.
Centre-back is more of a problem, though, and it could be that one of Virgil van Dijk or Fabinho is required to pull double duty, but more likely is that Sepp van den Berg, Nat Phillips or even Rhys Williams are considered.
In midfield, James Milner, Curtis Jones and Marko Grujic are all options, while there will be a temptation to give Thiago his full debut.
Diogo Jota came in for considerable praise from Lijnders ahead of the game, and the Portuguese could also start, with Xherdan Shaqiri, Divock Origi, Takumi Minamino and Harvey Elliott available in attack too.
Harry Wilson should sit out, ahead of a likely move to Burnley, while the same could be said of Rhian Brewster as question marks remain over his future.
Liverpool’s XI vs. Lincoln
Though 11 changes are in the offing, Liverpool should line up with a particularly strong side at Sincil Park, with Lijnders saying “some of you will be surprised” at how the Reds take to the field.
The key issue is in defence, and it could be that there is even less experience at the back than the 7-2 win over Blackpool in pre-season, when all four of Klopp’s first-choice starters were on international duty.
Williams and Tsimikas should start on either side of Adrian‘s back four, and unless the manager sees fit to call upon Van Dijk or Fabinho, the most probable centre-back pairing is Van den Berg and Phillips.
In midfield, the No. 6 role could be occupied by Grujic, which would serve as the Serbian’s first competitive outing since the end of 2017.
Jones is almost certain to start, and should be joined by Milner in the more advanced roles in a three-man unit, with the No. 7 wearing the captain’s armband in the absence of Henderson.
Attack could see a number of exciting combinations, with Minamino the most assured of his place in the side, as a settled and comfortable stand-in for Roberto Firmino.
On either side of the Japan international could be Shaqiri, who is back from injury and so far not close to a summer exit, and Elliott, who excelled against League One opposition at this stage last year away to MK Dons:
Adrian; Williams, Phillips, Van den Berg, Tsimikas; Grujic, Milner, Jones; Shaqiri, Elliott, Minamino
There is a case to argue that Liverpool could go even stronger, though, with Lijnders’ comments ahead of the game indicating that both Thiago and Jota are in consideration.
They will need time to fully adjust to Klopp’s system, but both are clearly capable of shining immediately, with the assistant manager hailing Jota as a “pressing monster” who will “fit in straight away.”
If both start, then, they are likely to take the places of Grujic and, unfortunately, Elliott, which would give the Reds are scarily strong front six against a side from League One.
The back line is unlikely to change, and nor the formation, with Thiago already proven in a 4-2-3-1 but needing more time to acclimatise in Klopp’s 4-3-3:
Adrian; Williams, Phillips, Van den Berg, Tsimikas; Thiago, Milner, Jones; Shaqiri, Jota, Minamino
With Arsenal coming up just four days later, it seems unlikely that Thiago will be risked against Lincoln, but there is a case to argue that this could be a worthwhile exercise for the Spaniard.
Either way, Liverpool are set to be significantly stronger this time around than they were when they were knocked out of last season’s League Cup, which ended with the club’s youngest-ever side losing 5-0 at Aston Villa.