Double-header between 21st-century rivals could prove crucial to German manager's bid for long-term success
Chelsea face a Liverpool side with options as Jurgen Klopp eyes bench strength ahead of League Cup clash
Given their superlative start to the season, it would be wrong to say Liverpool are at sixes and sevens. Yet a team who have reeled off seven straight victories represent a club who have gone six years without silverware.
The numbers highlight an issue.
This may be their best chance to win the league since 1990. Yet Jurgen Klopp has no trophy to show for his time at Anfield, and his Chelsea counterpart Maurizio Sarri is yet to lift a major honour in his managerial career.
Each could deem the League Cup his best chance to open his account.
Wednesday night's game is the lesser of this week’s double-header between 21st-century rivals, an intriguing hors d’oeuvre to the meatier main course of Saturday’s league meeting between swift starters. There is a theory that Liverpool should sacrifice everything to prioritise a title race in which Manchester City are still favourites.
“With the Carabao Cup [as the League Cup is called], FA Cup, Europe... the FA must hope nobody gets through all the competitions because it's impossible to deal with it,” Klopp said.
But his first final as Liverpool manager came in the League Cup, and he said: “We like this competition.”
It can serve a purpose. It looks a pathway to future success. Three of its last five winners – City in 2014 and 2018, plus Chelsea in 2015 – have gone to become champions. Seven of the last 14 have won a second trophy later in the campaign.
The facts suggest the League Cup generates momentum.
Liverpool have combined victory with winning the European Cup (in 1981 and 1984), the league (1982, 1983, 1984), the Uefa Cup (2001) and the FA Cup, also in 2001.
They reached a second Wembley final two months after securing their last major honour, Kenny Dalglish’s team overcoming Cardiff in the 2012 final when Gerrard – Steven’s cousin Anthony, then playing for the Welsh club – missed the decisive penalty in the shootout.
If the early stages represent a balancing act, and Sarri has said Chelsea could make up to 11 changes, Klopp seems to have a better class of stand-in than before. Rewind to the opening day of the season and after Liverpool’s 4-0 win over West Ham United, the German was asked if he could see greater strength in depth.
“Yes, because I am not blind,” he replied.
With only 12 players starting any of their first five league games, that added depth has scarcely been tested. It will be now.
Premier League talking points: Xherdan Shaqiri gives Liverpool even more attacking options
Joel Matip and Xherdan Shaqiri, fresh from beginning Saturday’s 3-0 win over Southampton, should retain their places. It will be no surprise if Daniel Sturridge, Nathaniel Clyne and Alberto Moreno come in. Dominic Solanke and the fit-again Dejan Lovren offer other options.
Most mysteriously, there is Fabinho, the £43 million (Dh208m) summer signing who has been limited to one minute of action so far. If his Anfield career is following the same path as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s, with Klopp taking time to school a newcomer in his style of football, this could be the first examination of how the Brazilian is adapting.
The only understudy guaranteed to start is Simon Mignolet, demoted to the rank of Alisson’s understudy this season and denied a move.
“He deserves the game,” Klopp said. “Simon would have been ready to go to another club to be No 1 wherever in the world, but we couldn't do it. Since then he has been brilliant.”
Chelsea’s second string could feature such luminaries as Alvaro Morata, Cesc Fabregas and Gary Cahill.
“This team has experience. They won the title already, 80 per cent [of them] twice,” Klopp added. “That is a really good, strong group.”
The same may be said of Liverpool.