The League Cup has not always been kind to Jürgen Klopp – or vice versa, take your pick – but Liverpool advanced into the quarter-finals courtesy of a vastly-improved second half display at Preston. Goals from Takumi Minamino and Divock Origi provided safe passage after a few first half scares against the Championship side.
Origi sealed victory with an impudent finish to extend his League Cup record to an impressive 11 goals in his last 10 starts in the competition. The recovery, with experience to the fore in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and the goalscorers, was necessary following a tame opening from the visitors at Deepdale.
Klopp changed his entire Liverpool team from the one that eviscerated Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday. The historic humiliation of their great rivals was gone, according to the Liverpool manager. The raucous chants of “Ole’s at the wheel” from the away fans in the Bill Shankly Kop showed it will never be forgotten.
Harvey Blair, an 18-year-old winger who started out at United, was handed his debut and midfielder Tyler Morton made his first start, but there remained a strong pool of senior talent with Joe Gomez and Joël Matip at the heart of defence, Oxlaide-Chamberlain and Curtis Jones in midfield and Origi leading the line.
Criticism of the Liverpool manager’s League Cup selections has diminished as the bigger prizes have landed at Anfield, with wholesale changes accepted as a feature of an increasingly demanding workload. The same cannot be said of Frankie McAvoy yet the Preston manager made nine changes to the team that suffered a painful defeat at Blackpool on Saturday, leaving them 19th in the Championship with only three league wins from 14 matches.
In fairness to McAvoy, his confidence in a rejigged team was repaid with a first half performance that could and should have brought a two-goal lead.
Liverpool started brightly, controlling possession and regularly finding space behind Preston’s wing-backs. Morton, an 18-year-old from Wallasey, stood out in central midfield with his willingness to take responsibility, ability to dictate the pace of the game and composure on the ball.
A positive start did not translate into a shot on target before the interval, however, and, having withstood the early pressure, the hosts grew in confidence and as a threat on the counter attack. Midfielder Brad Potts had the first clear opportunity of a wet and windy night when exchanging passes with Sam Maguire in the centre circle. The forward’s return pass sent Potts clean through on goal but, on his weaker left foot and with Gomez bearing down from behind, he took the shot early and clipped it at a comfortable height for Adrián to tip over.
Moments later Preston had three gilt-edged chances to take the lead after Gomez was caught out as he attempted to bring the ball out of defence. Ali McCann broke down the right and crossed perfectly for Maguire standing unmarked on the edge of the six yard box. Maguire had only Adrián to beat but shot too close to Liverpool’s stand-in goalkeeper, who parried into the path of Ryan Ledson. The midfielder’s follow-up was blocked on the line by Neco Williams, somewhat unwittingly, but Preston had a third bite when the rebound dropped to Potts. Six yards out, and leaning back, he skied it.
Liverpool started the second half with renewed intensity. As they had to. Oxlade-Chamberlain picked out Minamino with a deep cross behind the Preston defence but the Japan international failed to connect as he attempted a first time volley. The midfielder, central to the improved tempo and pressing from Klopp’s team, then went close with a powerful shot from distance after driving through several challenges.
Preston were being given little time to settle in possession or to find the forward runs of Maguire and Tom Barkhuizen, unlike the first half, and the visitors’ belated pressure told when Minamino scored his third Carabao Cup goal of the campaign. Williams, who had been close to converting a Minamino cross to the far post moments earlier, returned the favour after weaving his way to the by-line via a few weak defensive tackles. The Wales international crossed hard and low to the near post where Minamino guided home a fine finish into the far corner of Declan Rudd’s goal.
With six minutes remaining Origi maintained his remarkable run of form in the competition with another polished Liverpool finish. There was an element of fortune about the visitors’ second with Kostas Tsimikas’ wayward cross curling against the face of the crossbar and dropping to Williams, but not the final touch. Williams’ effort looped off a Preston defender towards Origi who, with his back to goal and the ball sailing over him, back-heeled a cheeky volley over the exposed Rudd. Job done.