Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers is confident his team can bounce back from their disappointing start to the season when taking on Middlesbrough in the Capital One Cup on Tuesday. A 3-1 loss at West Ham on Saturday was Liverpool’s third defeat in their opening five Premier League matches, meaning Rodgers’ men already face an uphill struggle to replicate last season’s second-place finish. Liverpool face a massive game at the weekend when taking on local rivals Everton in the Merseyside derby, but Rodgers insists that the visit of Middlesbrough in the League Cup is at the forefront of his mind, with the chance for his first silverware at Anfield not being overlooked.
“Of course, you're not all smiles because when you lose games, it's not a feeling we've been used to a lot, especially in the last season or so,” he said, according to Liverpool’s official website. “But you have to refocus and you have to move on. That's the nature of this level at the top end.
“We need to concentrate on the game tomorrow night. It's important for us and we want to get through. We want to win a trophy this season -- I said that early on in pre-season and that's still a key objective for us. This competition gives you the opportunity to do that.”
Defensive errors have continued to plague Liverpool, but, worryingly for Rodgers, there have been problems at both ends of the pitch. In the absence of the injured Daniel Sturridge and following the departure of Luis Suarez, Liverpool have struggled to find fluidity going forward. Fabio Borini was brought out of the cold for his first Premier League start for the club in almost two years on Saturday but endured an unfruitful outing alongside new signing Mario Balotelli. On Tuesday, Rodgers will mix things up once more by handing a first Liverpool start to Rickie Lambert.
“He's come off the bench and made an impact for us,” Rodgers explained. “He's a wonderful player, a great technician and he makes it really, really difficult for defenders. I know he's really looking forward to tomorrow night and hopefully he can get a goal on his first start.”
Rodgers will again be unable to call upon Philippe Coutinho, with the Brazilian attacking midfielder still troubled by a groin injury. Meanwhile, Jordan Henderson is a doubt with a hip injury. Along with Sturridge, Joe Allen, Emre Can, Glen Johnson and Jon Flanagan also remain on the sidelines.
After lifting the League Cup for a record eighth time two seasons ago, Liverpool were knocked out by Manchester United at the third round stage 12 months ago. In-form Middlesbrough now arrive at Anfield hoping to hand Liverpool another early exit. After a mixed start to his first full season in charge at the Riverside Stadium, former Real Madrid assistant coach Aitor Karanka has led Middlesbrough to three-straight victories in the Championship to propel them into the playoff places. A 4-0 win over Brentford on Saturday was made all the more impressive by the fact that he made five changes to the lineup that had just beaten Cardiff City. The Spaniard has suggested that more rotation could be in store for the trip to Anfield, but he is expecting a tough task, despite Liverpool’s poor recent form.
“You never know when the best time to play a team is,” he said, according to Middlesbrough’s official website. “I know the Spanish league very well -- look at where Real Madrid were last week and where they are now scoring eight goals in a game. It’s the same with a team like Liverpool -- there is never a good time to play them.”
Prediction: Despite his insistence on the importance of the competition, Rodgers is likely to make at least a few changes to his lineup. While there is better strength in depth now for Liverpool, several players are still trying to settle and it could be a difficult night against a confident Middlesbrough. It may take some time to get the breakthrough and Liverpool’s defense is again likely to be vulnerable to conceding, but the hosts should eventually get through.
Liverpool 2-1 Middlesbrough
Kickoff time: 2.45 p.m. EDT
Live stream: BeIN Sports Connect