Liverpool Echo reporter James Pearce gives us the lowdown on the Reds ahead of the first leg of the EFL Cup semi-final.
How is the semi-final being viewed, in terms of its importance, at Liverpool?
Probably the biggest game of the week for Liverpool has to be Sunday, at Old Trafford, with them being bang in the title race, but there’s still a lot of importance attached to this one. Liverpool have got a close affinity with the League Cup – they’ve won it more than anyone else. Certainly having come so desperately close last season, I think Klopp will be desperate to finally get that first trophy of his reign.
What sort of a team are you expecting?
I think Klopp will go pretty strong. He made that pretty clear in his press conference, that most of those who were rested in the FA Cup at the weekend will come back into the reckoning. He rested pretty much all of his first-choice players. Lallana, Sturridge and Firmino only came off the bench for the last 20 minutes against Plymouth, so I’m sure they’ll be in contention to start.
Obviously, there will be no Mané, now he’s gone to the Africa Cup of Nations. Wijnaldum will come back in, and James Milner is fit again after having a calf problem.
I don’t think it will be his absolute full-strength team, but it won’t be far off it. It certainly won’t be anything like the team he put out against Plymouth on Sunday. That was purely just for that competition, because Liverpool have had such a gruelling run over Christmas, and then with two huge games this week – the semi-final and then Old Trafford on Sunday – I think he felt it would be far too much to expect for his first eleven to play three full games in a week.
Do you think Jürgen Klopp will approach it any differently, as it’s the start of a two-legged tie?
I think he’ll approach it pretty much the same. Liverpool have had some excellent results on their travels this season, and a lot of that has been based on the damage they’ve done on the counter attack.
They’ve pounced on mistakes, with the high pressing game – trying to win the ball back, force the error and counter. I don’t think because it’s two legs it will change Klopp’s approach really. You don’t need to go gung-ho on the night, but they’ll still be positive.
Who do you feel will be Liverpool’s key men?
In terms of who’s been really important so far this season, you’d have to say Firmino has been excellent. It will be interesting to see whether he finds room for him and Sturridge in his starting line-up. Sturridge has a very good record in this competition, and was very impressive in the League Cup win at Southampton last season.
Origi has had a strange season really. That night at St Mary’s, the 6-1, was pretty much the night he announced himself as a Liverpool player, with the hat-trick, and he went on a great run after that, then got a bad ankle injury. Before Christmas he had done really well and has just gone off the boil a bit the last few weeks, so it will be interesting to see what he picks.
It’s going to need a bit of a reshuffle, because Sadio Mané’s been so important to the way Liverpool play, so he’s going to have to reshuffle his front line. Coutinho’s close to a comeback – I think he’ll be on the bench, and that will be a huge plus for Liverpool, as he’s been out for the last seven weeks. The only other bit of team news was that he suggested Karius might play in goal. Simon Mignolet is back as Liverpool’s number one, but it sounds like he may give Karius another chance to impress in the cups.