A Liverpool side looking for deeper domestic cup runs than they managed last season face Championship leaders Leicester in the Carabao Cup third round tonight. As the holders of the competition last season, the Reds crashed out in round four to Manchester City while their FA Cup defence also ended at the same stage.
But now a different team, they will be confident of maintaining the club’s 17-match unbeaten run this evening against a Foxes side that has started strongly in the second tier. Jurgen Klopp will make changes to his starting line-up so that it is similar to the one that defeated LASK in the Europa League last week.
Caiomhin Kelleher will start in goal while Stefan Bajcetic and Kostas Tsimikas are expected to be the full-backs. Jarell Quansah could partner Ibrahima Konate in defence with Wataru Endo in the holding midfield role. Harvey Elliott and Ryan Gravenberch should start either side of the Japan international.
Up front, Cody Gakpo is likely to lead the line with Ben Doak and Diogo Jota in the wide positions. And it is for Gakpo and Jota who tonight’s match is arguably the most important. The pair have been usurped in Klopp’s current favourite eleven.
For Tottenham away at the weekend, Luis Diaz and Darwin Nunez will start with Mohamed Salah. Gakpo had been trialled in an unfamiliar central midfield role at the start of the season but Curtis Jones, Dominik Szoboszlai and Alexis Mac Allister are unquestionably the best three for the moment.
Gakpo and Jota will be hoping to provide another reminder to Klopp though that they remain excellent attackers. Portuguese poacher Jota scored off the bench against West Ham and has two goals in six games (three starts) this season but he was underwhelming on his last start at old club Wolves and didn’t get a single minute in the Europa League.
He is arguably Liverpool’s deadliest finisher but his general play outside of goalscoring has been scrutinised. Gakpo had meanwhile made the false No 9 role his own last season, establishing himself as a handy long-term replacement for Roberto Firmino.
But so far this season he has struggled to impact matches as much, despite scoring with his last touch of the game in the comeback win at Wolves. That has seen Nunez edge ahead as the first-choice centre-forward. But a statement performance against Leicester would be beneficial ahead of a run which sees Liverpool play nine games in 43 days after this.
Behind the trio, Endo has a point to prove in midfield. The summer signing, 30, has only played five minutes across the past three Premier League matches. Klopp explained: “He needs to get used to the things here. He will help us a lot, he will play games, he will start games.
“It is not a short-term project. Wataru is a super-important part of the squad and I am really happy to have him.” But Mac Allister is the first-choice No 6 even though the Argentine is not a natural holder. Endo’s tendency to want to push forward and press opponents which leaves space behind him, the same space he is expected to occupy to protect the defence, has been his downfall.
Against a Leicester team that adopt a possession-based approach and boast a strong midfield, a disciplined display from Endo is needed. Gakpo and Jota being clinical too would also be helpful. The trio will see it as a good opportunity to remind why they’re Liverpool players, and they also know that victory would all but guarantee them another start in the fourth round.