Predicting Liverpool's Starting 11 vs Exeter City in League Cup Play
Following on from a moral-boosting 2-0 win at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday against Arsenal, Liverpool will be looking to string back-to-back wins together and book their passage into the third round—the round the Reds usually enter at when playing in Europe—at the expense of the League One outfit who have garnered just a single point from their opening four league fixtures.
The League Cup offers manager Kenny Dalglish a chance to change around his team somewhat following just two changes in personnel from the opening two league fixtures. Stalwarts from last season such as Martin Skrtel and Maxi Rodriguez have yet to figure this season and Raul Meireles only made a substitute appearance—although a telling one—against Arsenal.
The Reds will travel to St. James Park hoping for much better fare than in the same competition last season, when the side managed by Roy Hodgson crashed out at the first attempt against League Two side Northampton after extra time and penalties.
The fate of the Reds in the League Cup in recent seasons has not been all that much better since Rafa Benitez's first campaign at the helm, when they went all the way to the final in 2004-05 where they were beaten by Chelsea.
Liverpool however hold a proud history in the competition and have won the League Cup a record seven times, at least two more than any other team.
Liverpool's recent League Cup form:
2010-11: lost in 3rd round at home to Northampton
2009-10: lost in 4th round away to Arsenal
2008-09: lost in 4th round away to Tottenham
2007-08: lost in 5th round (quarter finals) away to Chelsea
2006-07: lost in 5th round (quarter finals) home to Arsenal
Goalkeeper: Alexander Doni
Matthew Lewis/Getty Images
Liverpool's newest Brazilian should make his debut for the Reds against Exeter after displacing Brad Jones as Pepe Reina's back-up following his free transfer move from Roma this summer.
While Reina obviously isn't in need of a rest after just two games, he did have a double hernia operation in the summer and only returned just prior to the start of the Premier League season, so a week-long break between games will probably aid him in further recuperating from his injury at this early stage.
Doni will be anxious to have a better impact than Jones did last season, conceding twice to lower league opposition on a rain-soaked Anfield night as Liverpool crashed out on penalties.
Full Backs: Martin Kelly and Jack Robinson
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Strong, quick, responsible and direct, Martin Kelly has got everything going for him.
Still recovering from injury over the summer, he was only on the bench for Liverpool's opening game but returned to the starting eleven against Arsenal and produced a typically assured display in defence, shutting out the likes of Andrei Arshavin with no fuss, and supportive in attack as he delivered several searching crosses from out wide.
Kelly is on a fast-track to stardom, of that there can be little doubt, and before the end of this season—perhaps as early as next month if he is selected—he will surely become the latest Red to be capped at full International level.
While Jon Flanagan will also be itching to get another chance in the first team, I feel Kelly still needs some more games to get his fitness levels up at present after a long spell out with a hamstring injury; while let's also not forget that despite his maturity of performances Kelly has still not even featured 30 times for Liverpool and nights like a trip to Exeter will aid his growth just as much as a home match against Bolton at the weekend.
On the opposite flank I feel Kenny might well make a change. Jack Robinson or Jon Flanagan could equally vie for this role but I'm going to go with the former.
Robinson played around an hour of the under 19's NextGen Series fixture against Sporting Lisbon last week and will be pushing for inclusion after being on the bench for the opening league match against Sunderland.
The young left back has enormous pace and good crossing ability but will face a tough job to get past both Fabio Aurelio and Jose Enrique for league games, so while Aurelio is injured now it seems a good moment to give Robinson more game time while he can.
Central Defence: Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel
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Daniel Agger is surely Liverpool's first choice defender to partner Jamie Carragher in league fixtures, but with no European action this term it makes sense to give the Dane as much time to recover between weekend games as possible to try and keep him fit.
While not changing a defence has its obvious benefits, in this instance I feel a change will do more long-term good than thrusting a recovering-from-injury player—in this case Martin Skrtel—will do bad.
Skrtel played every minute of last season's league campaign but will not repeat the feat this year after missing the opening day and being named on the bench versus Arsenal.
Carragher should retain his place in the side to ensure continuity, leadership and organisation, especially if Doni makes his debut in goal.
The case will be made to give the likes of Stephen Sama or Andre Wisdom game time, but Skrtel's needs come before theirs at the moment and Liverpool need Jamie Carragher in the side as well.
Central Midfield: Jay Spearing and Jonjo Shelvey
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Jay Spearing should come in to make his first appearance of the season after being an unused substitute for both league games until now. He will take Lucas Leiva's place in the holding midfield role and should have enough about him at this stage to dominate the centre of the park against inferior opposition.
With Christian Poulsen the only other senior defensive midfielder at the club, and currently well out of favour, Spearing should get his chance to try and win back a starting place in the team—but will have to excel in this game to have a chance.
Jonjo Shelvey I feel is the second midfielder who will come in.
Like Robinson, Shelvey played against Sporting for the under 19's and has not yet featured for the first team but Dalglish clearly rates him as a player and he was heavily involved in the first team's pre-season schedule.
This game should present an opportunity for the former Charlton youngster to make an impression and stake his claim for at least a bench spot in the league.
Shelvey is an incisive passer, has a good engine and loves to get forward and shoot, and should be a more-or-less direct replacement for Charlie Adam for this game.
Attacking Midfield: Maxi Rodriguez, Raul Meireles, Joe Cole
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Probably the area Liverpool have the most choice in at the moment as the likes of Jordan Henderson could be given another start to try and increase his confidence and form, while Alberto Aquilani has yet to figure despite plenty of calls from the fans for his inclusion.
I've gone for Maxi Rodriguez and Joe Cole for the wide positions, with Raul Meireles making his first start of the season in the centre.
Let's face it, most of us want Cole to be brilliant and do what he does—did, perhaps—best in a creative role behind and around the centre-forward, but he shown very little evidence of that in a Liverpool shirt.
Against Exeter if he plays he can surely only have a good impact and needs to use the match to full effect, both in terms of fitness and confidence. If he doesn't... well, QPR are London-based and have a rich new owner and a need to sign new players, do they not?
Maxi Rodriguez was back on the bench against Arsenal at the weekend and is still in Dalglish's thoughts, despite now being behind Stewart Downing for a starting berth. Maxi should get the nod one way or another and will look to continue his hot scoring streak which saw him net several goals at the end of last season and a couple more in pre-season.
Dirk Kuyt started against Arsenal on the right side before being replaced by Raul Meireles. Kuyt certainly has the strength and stamina to not worry about playing three games in a week but I feel Meireles will get the chance to start this game ahead of a big home fixture.
The Portuguese revelled in the role behind a striker last season and if he is at his best and links well with Andy Carroll again, Liverpool could rack up a whole bushel of chances on goal. Meireles had a good impact when coming on against Arsenal and needs to continue along the same vein to push himself back into contention for the league.
Striker: Andy Carroll
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With Luis Suarez unlikely to play a full game against Exeter with a league fixture against Bolton at the weekend, Dalglish basically has his pick between David Ngog or Andy Carroll. With a move to our weekend opposition a possibility before the transfer window closes, I've gone for Carroll to start this game.
Regular readers of my work will know I'm not bothered about Carroll's no-goals this season so far; I believe in the big Geordie and am sure he will start banging in the goals soon with regularity. What better place to start than a ground with the same name as the one he used to play at?
Carroll will give the Exeter defence a rough ride and has linked up well with Meireles previously for the Reds, and will look to do the same if selected tomorrow.
Substitutes: Reina, Flanagan, Wisdom, Coady, Adam, Aquilani, Kuyt.
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Obviously there are possibilities here that might not happen; if indeed Alberto Aquilani is in discussions with AC Milan as has been reported then it is highly unlikely that he will get any match time for Liverpool, in which case Luis Suarez, Jordan Henderson or David Ngog may take his place.
Ngog is another who could be on the verge of a move away, which could also rule him out.
While Reds fans will want to see Luis Suarez terrorise a lower-league defence, it is more important that he continues regaining fitness so that he is able to start and play the full 90 minutes in the Premier League more often, which he has not yet done.
Reina as a goalkeeper, Jon Flanagan covering the full back positions, Andre Wisdom (or Stephen Sama) for central defence and right back, Conor Coady and Charlie Adam for the centre of midfield, Aquilani for an advanced role and Kuyt for either flank or up front—these seven substitutes should give Liverpool a good range of cover, as well as having enough experience on the bench for if things go horribly wrong during the game and Dalglish needs to make alterations.
On the other hand, if things are going swimmingly well, some of the younger lads could get their chance to make their mark on the first team. Conor Coady will be pressing to make his debut, whether it be in this League Cup fixture or later on in the season.
Predicted Liverpool team and subs:
Subs: Reina, Flanagan, Wisdom, Coady, Adam, Aquilani, Kuyt.
Feel free to leave your variations below, or tell me who you'd rather see in the starting eleven!
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