The games keep coming thick and fast as Liverpool attempt to regroup ahead of Saturday’s Merseyside Derby…
Liverpool vs. Middlesbrough
Capital One Cup
Kick-off: 7.45pm BST
Live on Sky Sports
Liverpool have a long and illustrious association with the League Cup – branded currently as the Capital One Cup – but Tuesday night’s third round tie with Middlesbrough could hardly have come at a worse time.
Three defeats in the club’s opening five Premier League fixtures, including two on the bounce, a lengthy injury list and the looming presence of a Merseyside Derby on Saturday, leave Kop boss Brendan Rodgers in a difficult position.
The Northern Irishman is on record as saying he wants to lift a trophy this season and on paper this competition would provide him with the best opportunity to do so.
But will the former Swansea City chief choose to keep one eye on the bigger picture and rest what under-performing stars are available to him and in doing so increase the risk of a shock cup exit?
It wouldn’t be his first experience of such an occurrence whilst at the Anfield helm, having lost to League One side Oldham Athletic in the FA Cup two seasons ago.
Advancing to the next stage of a competition the club has won a record eight times will need to be achieved without Daniel Sturridge, Joe Allen, Emre Can, Glen Johnson and Jon Flanagan, all of whom remain on the sidelines anyway.
Jordan Henderson (hip) and Philippe Coutinho (groin) are also struggling and unlikely to be risked ahead of the renewing of local hostilities at the weekend.
That fixture, which will be the club’s sixth in the space of 15 days, takes on even more significance after Everton’s home defeat on Sunday, to the previously winless Crystal Palace, condemned them to a similarly unsatisfactory start to that of their more illustrious neighbours.
Speaking at today’s pre-Middlesbrough press conference, in which he confirmed Rickie Lambert will start, Rodgers commented: “It hasn’t been a great start by any means, but I have worked with the team enough and I know the players and how they do respond.
“That honesty in the group and how hard they want to work, it gives me great hope.
“It is a long campaign and we’ve got a lot of games. As I said, we haven’t made a great start by any means, but we’ll improve. We’ve shown in my time here, my team will get better in the second half of the season.
“We need to concentrate on the game tomorrow night. It’s important for us and we want to get through.
“We want to win a trophy this season – I said that early on in pre-season and that’s still a key objective for us. This competition gives you the opportunity to do that.”
Regardless of who is selected to play for the hosts, Middlesbrough are highly unlikely to provide the cannon fodder for bruised egos and tired limbs that many would hope.
Former Real Madrid defender Aitor Karanka has guided the Teesiders to three straight victories and a spot in the Championship play-off places.
Boro have also remarkably won five of their last six away League Cup ties and triumphed in the last meeting between the two sides back in 2009.
Previewing the meeting in his own press briefing, the Spaniard was understandably wary of a Liverpool backlash after their miserable showing in the 3-1 defeat to West Ham United.
“I know they aren’t in a good way but they have a good manager and good players,” analysed Karanka. “We must go there to win, you can’t go to enjoy the atmosphere. That is dangerous.
“Look at Real Madrid, they were very bad two weeks ago then they score eight goals. You cannot know what is, and what is not, a good time to play Liverpool.
“You have to remember, they are a Champions League team and we are a Championship team.
“There is a big difference between Liverpool and us. Our real tests are against teams in the Championship.
“But we will go there and try to win.”
Jones, Manquillo, Toure, Sakho, Enrique, Rossiter, Lucas, Lallana, Markovic, Borini, Lambert.
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