Facing an FA Cup third round match against League Two side Exeter City in the midst of a fixture pileup, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp will already have been tempted to heavily rotate his side. But as an incredible injury crisis continues to deepen, his selection dilemma has been made far more straightforward.
Liverpool gained a 1-0 win over Stoke City in the first leg of their Capital One Cup semifinal on Tuesday, but the cost of victory was severe. Philippe Coutinho, Dejan Lovren, Kolo Toure and Jordan Ibe all suffered injuries in the match that have ruled them out of Liverpool’s bow in this season’s FA Cup. It takes the Anfield club’s list of absentees to 13, with seven them alone struck down with hamstring injuries.
Klopp has lamented a fixture list that will see Liverpool play seven games in 23 days by the time they have taken on Arsenal on Wednesday and Manchester United next Sunday. With those important Premier League matches upcoming, Klopp has made it clear that he will select an unfamiliar lineup to take the field at Exeter’s St James Park ground.
“I think that’s the thing we have to do now,” he said in his pre-match press conference on Thursday. “We have to take the situation like it is and we go to Exeter. I will be there for sure -- I’ll take a few players with me! Of course it’s a great tournament, we know about this, we have to make decisions in this moment now for the team, for the Liverpool team and for my team. So we have to make changes, that’s all I can say because at this moment I don’t know who is available after training but of course we will make changes.”
Klopp has particular problems at center-back, where he will be without Lovren and Toure, as well as Mamadou Sakho and Martin Skrtel. It could well mean midfielder Lucas Leiva dropping into the back four, as he did successfully against Stoke.
Despite putting themselves in a strong position to reach the Capital One Cup final and remaining in all four competitions, Liverpool’s form under Klopp has been inconsistent. Although there have been wins over Chelsea, Manchester City and Premier League surprise package Leicester City, they have also lost convincingly to Watford and West Ham in recent weeks.
That could provide encouragement to Exeter of causing one of the biggest upsets in the competition’s 144-year history. And they could take further motivation from League One side Bradford City’s shock win over Chelsea last season.
Still, Exeter’s form heading into the match is hardly impressive. Indeed, the side managed by Paul Tisdale have not won a game since they beat Port Vale in the second round of the FA Cup over a month ago. In that time they have lost all four league matches, dropping them down to 16th position in England’s fourth tier.
Although few players remain on either side, Tisdale was in charge when Exeter hosted Liverpool in the League Cup in 2011. Liverpool triumphed 3-1 that day, but the Exeter boss believes his team will be going into Friday’s match in a healthy state of mind.
“Win, lose or draw, you'd look at it as a positive,” he said, reports Exeter City’s official website. “We haven't thought of it as a hindrance for one minute, but you have to go into any game in a positive focus. We have ours, and know what we're trying to do on Friday night, but the reality is that we have nothing to lose. I just hope that the club puts themselves into the bright lights on Friday night.”
Prediction: Exeter City 0-2 Liverpool
Kickoff Time: 2:55 p.m. EST
TV Channel: Fox Sports 1