A trip to Preston on Wednesday night to play in the Carabao Cup was always going to feel like a comedown after the 5-0 thrashing of Manchester United, but Jurgen Klopp did at least get the result he wanted. While the game came in stark contrast to the toppling of United at Old Trafford, Liverpool are at least in the hat for the quarter-finals after a 2-0 win at Deepdale.
Expectations were high and understandably so, given Liverpool’s ludicrously good away record this season.
Coming into the tie, Liverpool had won seven of their eight away games this season, scoring at least three goals in each of those matches. They did not continue the streak.
Takumi Minamino scored the game’s opening goal, reacting quickly to turn in Neco Williams’ cross in the 62nd minute.
Then, with the game winding down in the 84th minute, Divock Origi popped up to improvise a flicked finish to make it 2-0 and confirm the result.
Other than that there was little to get excited about from a Liverpool perspective as the squad’s fringe players failed to catch Klopp’s eye.
Here are the three players who did not take their chance.
The match was a big opportunity for Gomez to show his credentials having sat on the bench and watched Joel Matip and Ibrahima Konate partner Virgil van Dijk so often this season.
While Van Dijk has gone straight back into the side following his return from injury, the same cannot be said of Gomez, who has endured a more frustrating time this campaign.
Gomez used to be Klopp’s first choice to play alongside Van Dijk, but he no longer holds that status with Matip the most frequent partner, while Konate started the 5-0 thrashing of United last weekend.
A Carabao Cup tie against the side 19th in the Championship looked like the ideal occasion for Gomez to put forward his case. It did not work out like that.
Liverpool had a whopping 79 per cent of the ball in the first half, yet both major goalmouth incidents came at their end, largely because of mistakes by Gomez.
First, the 24-year-old was drawn to the ball, allowing Brad Potts in behind with a simple one-two. Only a poor finish and a save by Adrian kept the Preston midfielder out one-on-one.
Next came the most glaring mistake. Gomez stepped forward on the ball and was robbed by Tom Barkhuizen. Preston worked the ball well, but Sean Maguire could not beat Adrian from close range and Neco Williams was well positioned to keep out Ryan Ledson’s shot on the line before Potts blasted over the resulting loose ball.
Matip was replaced by Nat Phillips at half-time, but it was Gomez who deserved the blame for Preston’s openings.
Like Gomez, this was a big chance for Oxlade-Chamberlain to state his case for a start in more prestigious competitions. That was a genuine possibility, too, with injuries rife.
James Milner and Naby Keita both picked up injuries in the win over United – a game both Fabinho (knee), Thiago Alcantara (calf) and Harvey Elliot (ankle) all missed.
Oxlade-Chamberlain is therefore one of few fit players Klopp can choose from in central midfield, alongside Jordan Henderson and Curtis Jones.
The former Arsenal man certainly tried hard. But his performance showed a player trying so hard to impress that it actually became detrimental.
Oxlade-Chamberlain was constantly trying to force the issue with an incisive pass or burst of pace, yet nothing came off. Liverpool failed to muster a shot on target in the first half and it didn’t get better in the second period for Oxlade-Chamberlain either.
He smashed a trademark long-range effort wide before sending a simple pass intended for Kostas Tsimikas on the overlap straight into the advertising hoardings.
This was familiar ground for Origi, who is used to being wheeled out for the smaller cup games, while Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Diogo Jota put their feet up.
The Belgian striker has cult status thanks to some memorable goals for Liverpool, but he is never going to press his case to replace one of the aforementioned players.
While he was starved of service at the top end of the pitch for the majority of the match, he did little to join in either.
Preston’s three-man defence dealt well with Liverpool’s sporadic forays into their area, with Minamino’s goal coming from the away side’s first shot on target.
Origi’s moment in the sun did come from Liverpool’s third shot on target.
Tsimikas struck the bar with a deep cross and a loose ball from the impressive Williams’ follow-up shot dropped to Origi, who did well to flick the ball over Declan Rudd’s head with his ankle.
It was a timely goal for Liverpool, but it is hardly going to force a change of heart from Klopp when it comes to the Premier League or Champions League.