Would you just look at it? It’s glorious, isn’t it? All shiny and sexy. The three-eared pot with Liverpool’s name inscribed on it more than any other – an incredible EIGHT times….imagine if they made it NINE…
Standing in the way are two dangerous enemies: Stoke City Football Club, and Liverpool Football Club themselves.
Mark Hughes has cultivated a new footballing renaissance at The Brittania Stadium featuring supremely talented ‘flair’ players such as Bojan, Shaqiri, Arnautovic and….Jon Walters. Fans of the Potters will be hoping that this attacking quartet can lead Stoke to only their second League Cup success, a full 44 years after their only win in the 1971/72 season.
On their day they are capable of tearing any team apart, as we have witnessed this season. However they are eminently beatable too, as illustrated so typically by West Brom last weekend. If you give the front-three of Stoke time to play, they will punish you. If you press hard, hassle and harry them, you can shut them down and create chances, which leads us to the second opponent Liverpool face on Tuesday…themselves.
Liverpool are in the midst of a full-blown striking crisis, with Benteke the only fit out and out striker, and struggling to fit into Klopp’s master plan. His lack of mobility whilst leading the line is causing catastrophic knock-on effects for the likes of Coutinho, Firmino and Lallana behind him, players that show just how badly set-up Liverpool are to service the true strengths of the big Belgian. They’re not exactly the ‘sprint down the line, whip it in the box’ players that a player like Benteke seems to need.
Benteke is also suffering through a clear crisis of confidence too, despite scoring both winners in recent 1-0 victories. You sense that once his tail is up he can be nigh on unstoppable on his day, but when it’s the reverse situation, he can be tamed easier than a goldfish swimming in a bowl of Rohypnol. Liverpool have never before scored fewer goals after 20 games in a league season – a new and very unwanted record now in the history books.
Jurgen Klopp could omit Benteke and revert to the formation that he deployed to such devastating effect against Manchester City and Chelsea, utilising a mobile and fluid front three of Lallana-Coutinho-Firmino.
Klopp has revealed that he spoke just three words to his players following their capitulation to West Ham last Saturday, but he has yet to reveal what those three words were. My ‘insider’ has told me that the words uttered by Klopp were ‘Nein, Nein, Nein’, indicating both his displeasure at their performance, and also what an emergency Liverpool now find themselves facing. He’s a clever sod is that Klopp.
It will be a full three weeks before the second leg is played, meaning that a number of the injuries facing both sides could well have cleared up by then. The likes of Henderson, Sturridge, Origi and Skrtel (stop sniggering) could all be available for what is sure to be a dramatic night at Anfield on January 26th.