Jurgen Klopp may finally have realised the benefits of a competition he previously neglected as Liverpool’s fringe players and youngsters continue to catch the eye
Liverpool have gone about things in the Carabao Cup with unusual ease this season.
The Reds have advanced to the quarter-finals with away victories over Norwich City and Preston North End, scoring five and conceding zero in those two fixtures.
They have, of course, benefited from playing easier opposition than they have faced in the Carabao Cup in recent years, having been drawn against the team bringing up the rear in the Premier League and another which is struggling in the Championship.
In contrast, Liverpool crashed out against Leicester City in 2017, Chelsea in 2018 and Arsenal last year. In 2019, there was a quarter-final drubbing by Aston Villa while the entire first team squad was in Qatar for the Club World Cup.
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So, the draw has looked favourably on Jurgen Klopp’s side.
But Liverpool are also better prepared for this competition than in any other season of the German’s tenure thanks to the strength of a squad previously short of depth or ravaged by injury.
Not only are the Reds finally capable of having a good go in the Carabao Cup, they are also benefiting from putting out competitive sides in the competition, even if they are heavily rotated.
Players out of contention for Premier League or Champions League minutes capitalised on opportunities against Norwich and Preston.
Forwards Divock Origi and Takumi Minamino are the obvious examples of this and between them they have scored all five of Liverpool’s goals in the competition this season.
Minamino followed up his double at Carrow Road with a well-taken strike against Preston, while Origi made it two goals in two Carabao Cup games with a remarkable back-heel flick at Deepdale.
But there were many others not on the scoresheet who contributed to Liverpool’s progression to the last eight.
Goalkeeper Adrian, starting in place of the unwell Caoimhin Kelleher, made a fine save to prevent his side going behind.
Seconds later, Neco Williams put his body on the line with a brave goal-line clearance and the 20-year-old proved to be a standout performer against the Lilywhites.
The 20-year-old endured an underwhelming 2020/21 season but he is slowly building up his confidence and provided the assist for Minamino’s opener.
Elsewhere, 18-year-olds Harvey Blair and Tyler Morton were bolstered by the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Curtis Jones, with the stable platform of Joe Gomez – who wore the armband – and Joel Matip behind them.
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Liverpool’s ability to name a strong team in the Carabao Cup including a number of youth players has a number of obvious benefits for the latest youngsters emerging from Kirkby academy.
But the squad as a whole also stands to gain from a run into the late stages of the competition, with fringe players building match sharpness ahead of a busy run of Champions League and Premier League fixtures either side of the November international break.
It was once an unwelcome distraction for Klopp, but the Carabao Cup could play an important role in defining Liverpool’s season.