The League Cup is a competition that has been king to Liverpool down the years. Between 1992 and 2001 it was the only competition we had any success in, and it is the last trophy we won back in 2012 under the stewardship of Kenny Dalglish. With Liverpool’s current underperformance in their last two league outings, a win the Carabao Cup this evening would have given the team some much needed confidence for when they play Leicester this weekend at the King Power Stadium. Which was the opponent and venue for our Carabao Cup third round tie.
As anticipated, the team was subject to much change for this game. Danny Ward took the gloves as many though, as Loris Karius was given the back-up berth on the bench. Jon Flanagan and Joe Gomez came into the defence, in place of Joel Matip and Trent Alexander-Arnold. Emre Can was rested and Marko Grujic came in to replace him. Georginio Wijnaldum took James Milner’s place. Phlippe Coutinho was moved out to the left flank in place of Roberto Firmino, Daniel Sturridge was replaced with Dom Solanke and Mohamed Salah made way for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Surprising inclusions on the bench were Danny Ings, making his first-team comeback from injury, and Lazar Markovic despite summer rumours regarding his future.
Leicester also decided to switch it up a bit before our clash on Saturday evening. Out went Kaspar Schmeichel, Jamie Vardy, Yohan Benalouane, Christian Fuchs, Danny Simpson, Matty James and Riyad Mahrez. In came Ben Hamer, Daniel Amartey, Aleksandar Dragovic, Ben Chilwell, Vicente Iborra, Demarai Gray and Leonardo Ulloa.
A quiet first half started slowly. Both teams played as if this was a third round League Cup tie, hindering the pace and flow of the game. Liverpool had most of the ball but were not creating clear cut chances. Leicester started with Ulloa and Islam Slimani up front, and it was clear that it wasn’t working from the get go. They failed to supply the two target men with any meaningful service, thus rendering them both redundant.
Chances were few and far between for both sides in the first half but it was Liverpool who were having the majority of them. For Liverpool, Andy Robertson flung in a cross from left which Philippe Coutinho couldn’t reach to convert. Midway through the first half, Robertson found himself free again on the left. He came inside and squared it to Oxlade-Chamberlain on the penalty spot. The new man must have thought he had an easy finish to score his first goal for the club, but Chilwell slid in to block superbly at the last minute. Not long before the break, Coutinho wriggled free and lifted an unlikely pass to Dom Solanke while off balance. Solanke was clean through, but Hamer bore down on him and he found the angle very tight. He tried to lift it over Hamer but only found the roof of the net. The closest Leicester came was on the stroke of half-time when Marc Albrighton crossed in a set piece, which Wes Morgan poked straight into Danny Ward’s arms feebly.
When the referee blew for half time, it will have come to a relief for Leicester fans. Their team had taken a pummelling in the first period and Craig Shakespeare will have wanted to get his team in to regroup at the break. Jurgen Klopp will have been happy with his sides first half performance. Andy Robertson had been given the freedom of the KP on the Liverpool left and was delivering tantalising balls into the box. Philippe Coutinho was tearing Leicester apart and you got the feeling he hadn’t even got out of third gear yet. It seemed a matter of time before Liverpool would take the lead and more of the same would be the order for when play resumed.
When the second half kicked off, it was Liverpool who would make the first change of the half bringing Ben Woodburn on for Philippe Coutinho. Coutinho was instantly missed as Liverpool now found themselves without a man in midfield who could hold the ball up and trouble Leicester’s panicky defence. Leicester were forced to make a change of their own 10 minutes after the break when Leonardo Ulloa went down after innocuously heading away a corner. He had to come off and was replaced by Shinji Okazaki. It would be the Japanese international who would break the deadlock.
Leicester gained a corner which was headed away. Demarai Gray took control of the second ball 30 yards from goal and lifted it back into the area. Islam Slimani met it with his head and knocked it down to Okazaki. He was 12 yards from goal and had time to bring the ball down out the air and scuff his shot into Danny Ward’s bottom right corner via a deflection off Andy Robertson. Leicester had come back into the game but had certainly not done enough to warrant an equaliser. The goal came at a time where the game was becoming a fixture of two teams cancelling each other out slightly. Liverpool’s inability to deal with set pieces was their undoing once again however.
Liverpool responded by bringing on Danny Ings for Georginio Wijnaldum and the previously absent striker had a decent chance to level the scores. Jon Flanagan’s defelcted cross took the ball away from the crowd of players and towards Ben Hamer. But Ings didn’t give up the chase and look to have made it before Hamer. However he failed to make contact and Hamer was able to trap the ball with his foot such was the absence of danger. Ben Woodburn also created an opportunity for himself. He had the ball on the Liverpool left and came inside. As Daniel Amartey backed off, Woodburn took one touch inside and whipped a wicked shot towards Hamers top corner which whistled just over the bar. A few minutes later however, Leicester had a second.
Islam Slimani was played in down Liverpool’s left channel. Slimani took two touches and rattled his shot into the top corner without giving Danny Ward a chance. Since scoring the first, Leicester had dealt with Liverpool’s threat well by and large. Liverpool were again seeing more of the ball, but were not getting into dangerous areas. It was clear that they would be getting nothing out of this game.
After the goal Leicester began to see more of the play. In the Immediate aftermath, Demarai Gray cut in from the Leicester left and curled a shot towards Ward’s bottom left corner which the Welsh ‘keeper was equal to. Slimani also had a another effort which sailed over the bar before the referee eventually blew his whistle to signal the end of Liverpool’s Carabao Cup campaign at the first hurdle.
It would be easy to say that we don’t need this competition with an already hefty schedule between the Champions League and Premier League. It is true that not having extra midweek games in the Carabao Cup will probably aid our players rest and recovery time. What we would have loved though is a day out at Wembley. Anyone who says they are happy to go out of any competition is a liar. To lose this game after seemingly being in control for large parts makes it all the more enraging. Jurgen Klopp cannot be happy with his sides second half display, showing a soft centre at the back and a lack of creativity going forward once Philippe Coutinho went off. Liverpool do however have a chance to put this right quickly, when they travel to the KP Stadium again for the 5:30 p.m kick off this Saturday.