Many Premier League clubs are routinely accused of fielding second-string sides in the League Cup, lowering its profile quite a bit. Starting this season, the competition will be sponsored by an energy drink company – Carabao – from Thailand. Could it be that the clubs competing in it are also energised enough to take the competition seriously? At least a few big clubs should consider it seriously, as the Carabao Cup represents their best chance of getting silverware. Two such sides and former winners of the competition – Leicester City and Liverpool – will play to knock each other out of the competition on Tuesday at the King Power Stadium.
After the phenomenal 2015-16 season, it is fair to say that Leicester have regressed to the mean during the last season. It is also fair to say that this season’s start also has been as expected. They have only two wins and a draw to show in their first six matches (in all competition) of the season, but all the three losses have come to sides that will compete for top places this season. On Saturday, they were held to a 1-1 draw by Huddersfield. Their biggest victory of the still young season has come from the second round of this competition when they beat Sheffield United 1-4. Craig Shakespeare will be hoping that his side can achieve something similar against Liverpool on Tuesday night. But even if both the teams rotate their squad a lot, a repeat result or score-line seems improbable for Leicester.
If the Foxes’ season is going along expected lines, Liverpool’s season so far also seems to be a miniature version of what their fans can expect throughout the season. The Reds look terrific when attacking but are very vulnerable in defence. They have beaten top sides easily and made heavy weather of games against smaller, more defensive sides. These are expected from Klopp’s side as is the possibility that they will rotate heavily for the midweek game, but will not lack intensity. Klopp has narrowly missed winning the cup twice, falling at the last or the penultimate hurdle. He will want his third shot at the trophy to be successful and will set up his team to achieve that target.
- Liverpool are the most successful side in the competition, having won it 8 times and having been the runners up four times. Their last trophy was the League Cup (then Carling Cup) victory in 2012 and they last reached the final in 2016, in Klopp’s first season in charge.
- Leicester City have also been fairly successful in this competition, having won it three times and having competed in five finals. Their last trophy in the competition came in 2000, when they had made to their second-consecutive final.
- After Leicester’s promotion in 2014-15, Liverpool have played them in six games – all in the league. In those six games, Liverpool have won three, scoring 11 goals
Demarai Gray has not made a single start in the league but he did turn the cup game against Sheffield United into a rout. After a dour opening half, in the 52nd minute, Gray collected the ball 30-yards from goal, drove in field and beat three defenders before slotting through the goalkeeper’s legs. Though he may not get a chance to showcase such wizardry against a top Premier League side but his finishing, as well as his creation capabilities make him the key man for Leicester. In the league, he has put in 4 key passes already – in just 104 minutes.
Jurgen Klopp has a dilemma of too many options up front. Mane is ineligible for Tuesday and Danny Ings injured but in Dominic Solanke, he has a young striker capable of scoring some wonderful goals. His lone shot that shook the crossbar at Anfield on Saturday against a stout Burnley defence had an xG of 0.82, as per Understat.com. That shot was not a one-off as his overall xG per 90 minutes of 2.23 suggests. Solanke is an intelligent striker who can get into great positions and has the capability of scoring some wonderful goals as he has shown for Liverpool in the pre-season and for England’s youth sides.
With three back-to-back matches against pressing sides such as Huddersfield and Liverpool coming their way, Leicester are certain to rotate – at least a bit for this cup encounter. We can expect at least two-three of Demarai Gray, Ulloa, Okazaki, Vicente Iborra and Ahmed Musa getting to start against Liverpool in this game. Robert Huth might also be in contention to give a bit of rest to the defense.
Liverpool are in the middle of an extremely busy September and we can expect Klopp to rotate his side substantially for Tuesday. Although he would prefer to do so against slightly weaker opponents, but he can be expected to give game time to youngsters such as Woodburn, Grujic and Solanke. He might also use this opportunity to give some game time to Daniel Sturridge but he may not start. Klopp has more restrictive options in the midfield and especially in the defence. It might seem unthinkable for Reds’ fans but Joel Matip might need some rest after playing every single minute since the start of the season. That would mean a central defence partnership of Klavan and Lovren, which will certainly be a bigger test of the fans’ nerves than Leicester’s strikers.
In football, especially in cup games, it is the hungrier side that wins. Leicester, despite their three losses in the league, are progressing on expected lines. While, since the Manchester City game, the atmosphere around Liverpool is that of frustration and disappointment. I feel that Jurgen Klopp will be very keen to lift this despondent air from around his side and will want to ensure progress to the next round. Leicester being comparatively more open than Sevilla or Burnley will also help Liverpool. It will be a tough encounter, but I feel that the Reds will edge it.
Leicester 1 – 2 Liverpool