Liverpool coasted past Lincoln in the third round of the League Cup, on a night that saw auditions aced and a social media witch hunt continue for one young defender.
Thursday night at Lincoln City was one of those rare occasions when an early-round game in a domestic cup competition didn’t feel like a chore.
As sad a development as it is, both the League Cup (what even is a Carabao?) and the FA Cup have been made to feel like second-rate citizens at best, within the collection of major trophies that are on offer each season.
All competitions are there to be won, and while there has always been a hierarchy in the importance of each one, I don’t think the domestic cups, or the Europa League for that matter, have ever been as distant in meaning when compared to the Premier League and Champions League.
Very easy to claim, I suppose, given it is now eight years since Liverpool won the League Cup; very easy to claim, considering it is 14 years since Liverpool won the FA Cup.
Yet ever since winning the League Cup and reaching an FA Cup final in the same season was deemed a sackable offence by Kenny Dalglish, there has been a defined hollowness to the two domestic cup competitions. They have become ‘mood lighting’.
Jurgen Klopp doesn’t take the Pep Guardiola approach to domestic cup duties.
While Guardiola insists his players maintain peak ruthlessness, aiming to win every trophy available with a zealousness that is both admirable and foolhardy, Klopp’s approach is that he uses these games as a gauge to see how strong the outliers of his squad are.
At the minute, those outliers are strong, and for the likes of Curtis Jones and Takumi Minamino the game felt like an audition for greater involvement on a week-to-week basis.
Of those who are likely to be on the outside looking in on Monday night against Arsenal, they are the two players that are knocking the loudest.
Beauty and Brutality
Jones was impossible to contain at times, his footwork occasionally astounding, while Minamino was all speed and brutality, as he punished any lapses in Lincoln’s concentration and energy without mercy.
For others, it was almost product placement. A venomous Xherdan Shaqiri free-kick here, a low Marko Grujic drive there will have been noted with interest by potential suitors. Both celebrated their goals with a muted glee.
Grujic embraced his goal with the type of fist pump usually reserved for when you walk into a supermarket and see that they’ve got a plentiful stock of your favourite microwaveable curry.
Another that might be set for pastures new, Divock Origi, ‘put in a shift’ in a retro display of traditional centre-forward endeavour.
Tireless running, selfless holding up of the ball and an aerial presence that set Jones up for his first goal of the evening, with a marvellous cushioned header, getting on the end of a magnificent diagonal long pass from the understated Rhys Williams.
Origi even chipped in with the last goal of the night.
For the other Williams, it was a difficult night.
Caught in possession in the prelude to Lincoln’s first goal, he was rounded on by a social media witch hunt, with pitchforks and flaming torches aloft, in a completely ludicrous manner.
A teenager of high potential, Neco Williams isn’t going to gain any positives from being abused. Yes, he was at fault for a goal, yes, he is still learning as he plays, yet he isn’t unique in this.
Fabinho gave a careless pass away midway through the second half that went unpunished, while a Virgil van Dijk error led to a goal conceded against Leeds on opening day.
Errors are part and parcel of football and they happen to the very best players.
Trent Alexander-Arnold didn’t arrive in the Liverpool first team as the finished article.
He used to be easily undone by a long diagonal ball played by the opposing right-back, twisting him inside-out as the left-sided recipient would bring the ball down and cut inside.
It would leave the burgeoning right-back disorientated as he would turn his back as the ball dropped, in a bid to be facing goal, while expecting the attack to be coming at him from the touchline rather than over his other shoulder, where he was blindsided.
What happened was that Klopp identified the weakness, a weakness that could only be spotted during game time.
Then, working with the player on the training ground, the weakness was eradicated. Internet warriors played no part in this process.
What’s the Worst That Could Happen?
Liverpool eased off the gas after Minamino plundered the fifth goal, within 18 seconds of the restart.
Lincoln, perhaps feeling like the worst that could happen had already happened, drew the last 44 minutes and 42 seconds, plus injury time, 2-2 – their second goal scored via a header from a corner.
Beyond that, Diogo Jota got his first half-hour or so in a Liverpool shirt. Is it just me that thinks he looks a bit scouse?
Next up, two visits of Arsenal and two interesting games where we go up against a seemingly revitalised club, and one that has given us food for thought in our most recent encounters.
Win, and we puncture their growing confidence; lose, and we give them the springboard for an increasingly bright season ahead, while potentially provoking some self-doubts.
It’s quite a big one on Monday.