The FA Cup offers up the prospect of a giant-killing on Friday night, as Liverpool travel to Devon to take on League Two side Exeter City for a third-round tie at St. James Park.
Paul Tisdale's Grecians have endured a miserable start to the 2015/16 campaign, and they are currently 16th in the League Two table having taken 30 points from their first 24 games. However, as is invariably proffered when the FA Cup rolls into town, this will likely bear no marker on their clash with Liverpool.
Tisdale's opposite number, Jurgen Klopp, has struggled to impose his ideals since taking over at Anfield at the beginning of October, and now hampered with a ridiculous number of injuries, the German will be desperate for victory by any means on Friday night.
Taking place at Exeter's modest 8,541 stadium, the Devon side will be hoping a strong home contingent can conjure the atmosphere required to propel them to victory.
The odds are stacked against Exeter, but can they feed the narrative and take a big-name scalp on Friday night?
Date: Friday, 8 January, 2015
Time: 7.55 p.m. GMT / 2.55 p.m. ET
Venue: St. James Park, Exeter, England
TV Info: BBC 1 (UK) / Fox Sports 1 (U.S only)
Form Lines (Last 5 Games)
Exeter City: W-L-L-L-L
Tisdale has been given a boost ahead of Friday night's tie, with key defender Christian Ribeiro confirming that he is fit and available to feature against Liverpool.
Speaking to the Exeter Express and Echo's Simon Larkins on Thursday, Ribeiro said that while he wasn't in the best condition after a lengthy lay-off, he would be able to perform against the Grecians' storied opposition:
I haven't played a 90-minute game since the operation so it would be unfair of me to say that I'm fitter than other players, but I am working hard behind the scenes to be as fit as I possibly can be.
I would have loved to have had a couple of 90-minute games to get myself properly ready, but I'm just working as hard as I can so, if I am selected, I can give the best account I can for the team.
We will see what happens on Friday.
This leaves only midfielder David Wheeler as a notable absentee for Tisdale, and the fashionable 42-year-old can look to gain one up on Klopp in terms of fitness.
Klopp is without 13 first-team players heading to Exeter on Friday, with a spate of injuries leaving the Liverpool manager with little choice when it comes to team selection.
Dejan Lovren, Philippe Coutinho and Kolo Toure joined an ever-increasing injury list during Tuesday night's 1-0 League Cup semi-final first-leg win at Stoke City, while Jordon Ibe soon followed after suffering a hamstring problem during training.
This four-strong group joins Martin Skrtel, Daniel Sturridge, Jordan Henderson, Joe Gomez, Danny Ings, Divock Origi, Mamadou Sakho, Jordan Rossiter and Jon Flanagan as absentees at St. James Park.
Addressing the situation in his pre-match press conference (h/t This is Anfield) on Thursday morning, the 48-year-old said that "we have to make changes," hinting at wholesale rotation from his starting lineup at the Britannia Stadium in midweek.
Klopp can select from returning loanees Tiago Ilori, Ryan Kent and Sheyi Ojo, while stars of Liverpool's academy such as Pedro Chirivella, Connor Randall, Brad Smith, Cameron Brannagan and Jerome Sinclair can be hopeful of an appearance.
Per BBC Sport, Tisdale said Exeter "are not just looking to sit back and hold on," and this could be reflected in his team selection.
Typically, Exeter operate in a 4-4-2 formation, with this likely to continue against the Reds.
This could see Bobby Olejnik take up his regular role in goal, behind a back four of Craig Woodman, Jordan Moore-Taylor, Troy Brown and Ribeiro, with Jordan Tillson able to contribute as a shielding presence in the holding-midfield role.
Lee Holmes, Alex Nicholls and Joel Grant could make up the rest of Exeter's midfield, behind veteran striker Clinton Morrison and his youthful attacking partner Tom Nichols.
With injuries and the notion of rotation likely forcing Klopp's hand, the German could name a significantly changed side from that which defeated Stoke, with Adam Bogdan in goal and Randall, Ilori, Lucas Leiva and Smith making up Liverpool's back four.
Pushing Lucas back from midfield will see Klopp search for a replacement, and the returning James Milner could come in to partner Joe Allen in a likely 4-2-3-1 formation.
Able to give his exciting youth players an opportunity to impress at St. James Park, Klopp could field Kent, Ojo and Joao Carlos Teixeira in attacking midfield, behind one of Sinclair and Christian Benteke.
Likely Exeter City XI: Olejnik; Woodman, Moore-Taylor, Brown, Ribeiro; Tillson, Holmes, Nicholls, Grant; Morrison, Nichols.
Likely Liverpool XI: Bogdan; Randall, Lucas, Ilori, Smith; Milner, Allen; Kent, Teixeira, Ojo; Sinclair.
Players to Watch
"No-one is expecting anything from us," Morrison said, per the Telegraph's Jeremy Wilson.
"It is on television, playing against Liverpool, a lot of people will be watching, so go and enjoy yourself. It is being shown on TV for a reason; people think there might be an upset."
Morrison is one of the most experienced players in Tisdale's squad and, despite being 35 years old and having only recently ended a 50-game goal drought, he will be hoping his big-game nous will give him an advantage against familiar opposition.
If the Republic of Ireland international lines up in attack at St. James Park, expect him to push for a goal.
Kent returned to Liverpool after a hit-and-miss loan spell in League One with Coventry City, and while the 19-year-old's muted contribution does little to suggest that he will make a significant impact on Klopp's first team, injuries may grant him an opportunity in Exeter.
A pacy, skilful winger, Kent scored one goal and assisted on another in 17 league appearances for Coventry in 2015, and he will be hoping he can enjoy himself up against relatively lowly opposition.
Klopp addressed the "big chance" on offer for Kent and Co. following their return to Liverpool in his pre-match press conference (h/t This is Anfield), and this clash gives the former Oldham winger his first chance to showcase his abilities.
Tom Nichols vs. Liverpool's Centre-Backs
With Klopp struggling to put together a cohesive defensive line following injuries to Sakho, Skrtel, Lovren, Toure and Gomez, the German's centre-back pairing will be under immense scrutiny on Friday night.
Whether he selects Ilori, Lucas, Emre Can or a more unorthodox option at the back, Tisdale will likely be targeting the core of Liverpool's defence as a key weakness.
This is where Nichols could thrive.
The 22-year-old is Exeter's top goalscorer in all competitions this season, with nine strikes in 23 games, and if the Grecians are going to find their way through Liverpool's shaky back line, he is their best hope.
Nichols can spring a surprise on Klopp's centre-back pairing on Friday, and Tisdale's young star could prove the difference—the FA Cup could find another unlikely hero.
Exeter City: 15/2
Odds via Oddschecker and correct at time of writing.
Statistics via Transfermarkt.co.uk.
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