The squad depth test posed by Carabao Cup clash with ‘bogey side’ Lincoln City

Last season Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp was forced to play a squad of young, untested teenagers in cup games amid a packed schedule. With increased squad depth ahead of this week’s Carabao Cup tie with Lincoln City, he may not have to.

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Liverpool have not played an official match against Lincoln City in almost six decades. Yet, it remains true that the Merseysiders have lost three of their last five against the Imps.

The Reds were a Second Division side at the time, in that period of the late ’50s and early ’60s when Bill Shankly was in the midst of his revolution which would transform Liverpool from strugglers to serial winners.

Goals from the likes of Kenny Lewis, Johnny Morrissey and Roger Hunt saw the Reds win their last two against Lincoln in 1960 and 1961, but this was preceded by three straight defeats to the Imps.

Since, however, the two clubs’ respective paths have widely diverged. Liverpool would, of course, go on to win dozens of trophies both domestically and in Europe, while Lincoln went the other way – in the last few decades they have endured difficult spells playing non-league football and entered into administration during their darkest hour in 2002.


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But resurgence under Danny and Nicky Cowley saw them rise once again into the Football League, and now they are regular participants in the Carabao Cup – the competition in which Liverpool have been drawn against an Imps side which will be hungry for an upset on Thursday.

A 59-year period since the last time these two clubs met on the pitch means that Lincoln, now led by Michael Appleton are something of an unknown quantity for the Reds. Similarly unfamiliar is the level of squad depth now at Jürgen Klopp’s disposal. It will be interesting to see how he utilises it in this tie.

There’s no doubt that key players will be rested and fringe players will be given an opportunity – with an even more tightly-packed schedule this season, all opportunities should be taken to give the big hitters a breather.

So no doubt we will see the front three given the night off, or at the very least benched, along with the likes of Virgil van Dijk, Jordan Henderson, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson. Whereas, fringe players like Takumi Minamino, Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri will be given a vital opportunity to impress.

So how could Liverpool line up on Thursday?

Goalkeeper

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There is no doubting Alisson will be given the night off, but that’s where the certainty ends. Caoimhín Kelleher was the go-to cup ‘keeper last season as the youngsters were given unprecedented responsibility in this competition, but this year he has both Adrián and Loris Karius vying for as many minutes as they can get.

Adrián seems to be Klopp’s No.2 behind Alisson, so you would think he is in pole position to play in cup games. Karius is in that unenviable void of being a senior player but third-choice in a highly-specialised position. Frankly, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see him wear a Liverpool shirt again.

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The argument for playing Kelleher is the development angle. Alisson will be superb to learn from on the training pitch, but we’ve seen it so many times before when players have failed to fulfil their potential due to a lack of opportunities in matches.

If Kelleher is to have a chance of making it at Liverpool – or if the club is to fetch a good price for him in the future – he has to be given opportunities. Expect to see him start in this one.

Defenders

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Robertson, Alexander-Arnold and van Dijk will be prime candidates for a rest, but with Joe Gomez and Joel Matip nursing slight injuries it could leave Klopp with very few options for this cup tie.

Kostas Tsimikas will almost certainly make his debut at left-back, while Neco Williams is likely to start on the right side. Billy Koumetio is a strong youth candidate to be given a shot in a senior side, while Sepp van den Berg and Nathaniel Phillips could also be in contention.

But at least one senior central defender should be retained. If neither Gomez nor Matip is fit enough in time, then either van Dijk or Fabinho will keep their place from the win over Chelsea on Sunday.

Midfielders

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After a superb debut from the bench, Thiago may be preferred from the start here in order to give him a chance to fully settle into the Liverpool system. However, Klopp may elect to keep his new recruit on the sidelines with one eye on Arsenal’s visit to Anfield the following Monday.

James Milner is a likely starter to provide some key experience, especially as there could be a number of youngsters around him. That said, with a wealth of midfield options at Klopp’s disposal, he may not have to rely too much on Academy players in the middle of the park.

Forgotten man Marko Grujic could be in line for a first Liverpool start since September 2017, having spent the vast majority of time on loan at Cardiff City and Hertha Berlin. With the Serbian comfortable in a defensive role, this could give Curtis Jones a license to roam forward and support the attack, if the young Scouser is chosen to start.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is another attacking midfield option, but may not recover in time from a knee injury suffered in pre-season. There have been rumours of the Englishman’s potential Anfield exit, though the club has said there is no chance they will allow an important source of goals from midfield to leave in this window.

Forwards

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This is where it gets really interesting. A year ago there was a worrying lack of depth in attacking areas. But now, even if you completely remove Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino from the equation, there is still a queue of players who will be fighting for a chance to start in this cup outing.

Takumi Minamino is a shoo-in. Like his fellow Salzburg alumnus Naby Keïta, the Japanese has had a bit of a false start to life at Anfield, but is now showing glimpses of what he can bring to the table. After scoring in the Community Shield, another goal against Lincoln here would do his confidence the world of good.

Rhian Brewster is reportedly on his way out of the club, so isn’t likely to be around for this one. The man who has just arrived at Anfield, Diogo Jota, could make his Liverpool debut against League One opposition.

The final spot in the front three could fall to either Divock Origi or Xherdan Shaqiri. With Minamino and Jota potentially taking up the central and left-sided roles, the Swiss would be more suited to the right-wing berth – but he needs to be fit enough to play, which he has struggled to do in the last 18 months.

In any case, the manager has a wealth of options across the pitch for this cup tie, without having to rely upon too many youth players or any of the first XI. How often have we been able to say that in recent times?


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