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Rodgers Needs to Test Squad Depth

With Liverpool's Capital One Cup tie against Notts County coming up tomorrow night at Anfield, Brendan Rodgers will likely call on a lot of his squad members in order to rest some established first-teamers ahead of Sunday's huge game against Manchester United. Who would you choose to make up the eleven?

Brendan often sang Westlife numbers on the sideline...
Brendan often sang Westlife numbers on the sideline...
Clive Brunskill

Lest we forget, Liverpool Football Club won the League Cup the season before last. Nobody, not even Liverpool fans, really cared ultimately. Certainly, there were celebrations on the day and for maybe the week after. The older ones amongst us were replete with fleeting nostalgic glee at witnessing our old hero, Kenny Dalglish, holding a trophy aloft once more and beaming that beatific smile at all in sundry.

Of course, some Reds were experiencing their first silverware as comparatively new fans, and so for them there was a special significance to the victory, but truthfully, although it was and is a so-called major trophy, it has no real status and it mattered not a jot when FSG decided they'd had enough of the extended spell of care-taking being done by Dalglish.

However, when we acknowledge the harsh reality of Liverpool's current exclusion from either of Europe's club competitions, the League Cup takes on a significance beyond its mere worth as a bauble. It represents the opportunity for those not currently getting first-team football to play competitive minutes; a chance for them to try to wheedle their way into the manager's thinking for the Premier league. It is also an opportunity for Rodgers to test players in positions and see how they respond.

It would be a complete idiot who took a run in the competition for granted. The opportunities that it offers to both players and coach will only arise if Liverpool progress through the early rounds, and with the likelihood of a very inexperienced eleven taking on highly motivated opposition, it is hardly a given that such opportunities for experimentation and furtherment will arise. It is surely not only your correspondent who shudders at the mere mention of Northampton Town and Burnley (different competition, same embarrassing third round exit).

If we take it as a given that there will be significant differences between the team that beat Aston Villa and the team that will face Notts County, -- and we perhaps should do no such thing, as the Capital One Cup is one of only three chances for Brendan Rodgers to claim a trophy in his sophomore year at LFC -- then it becomes an interesting exercise to try and predict Rodgers' likely starters. This is not an attempt to preempt the regular Preview feature, but rather, to look at the squad depth in the wake of the recent transfer window disappointments.

Simon Mignolet has been a peculiar mixture of brilliance and uncertainty in the opening two matches of the Premier League. The common sense approach would suggest that he should play, in order to iron out the wrinkles he's exhibited on crosses and lofted balls into his six yard box. I would be shocked were Rodgers not to allow the Belgian to grow further into the role of first-choice 'keeper. With due deference to the ever-ready Brad Jones, it seems the sapient move to let Mignolet continue.

There is probably very little reason to risk the club captain in Tuesday's encounter, and yet it would be folly to leave the side bereft of experience and leadership. That being the case, one would expect Daniel Agger to captain the side, as Jamie Carragher did last season in Gerrard's absence. It's probably fair to assume that Kolo Toure will be rested and this leaves the first major question -- who should partner the Dane at the heart of the defence?

Martin Skrtel's failure to make match-day squads indicates just how out of favour he is. For many, it is a shame to see the man who was the fans' player of the year marginalised in this manner and it certainly suggests that one of André Wisdom or Martin Kelly will get the nod. Wisdom has the edge in terms of recent experience but Kelly was excellent in the Under 21s victory over Manchester United last week.

I have been predictably maddened by the form of José Enrique thus far and I will not be alone in hoping to see Aly Cissokho get his first start on Tuesday night ahead of the Spaniard. Cissokho needs an opportunity in his true position after being used as a left sided midfielder on Saturday, to limited success. Glen Johnson's athleticism may see him continue but Rodgers would likely benefit more from a look at one of the aforementioned Wisdom and Kelly or even the promising youngster Ryan McLaughlin. Encouragingly then, the manager has plenty of acceptable options in defence.

The midfield and attack it is likely to be even more disrupted, with wholesale personnel changes likely. Most would hope to see starts for Luis Alberto and Joe Allen, who will want to erase the memories of a dreadfully unsure cameo on Saturday, as Villa pressed for an equaliser. The Welshman was as tentative and ineffective as he was in his worst displays last season, being bundled off the ball and skittish in possession. The young Spaniard is an elegant footballer, as is Allen when on form, and most Reds' fans are anxious to see him in a competitive fixture.

One would expect to see either Lucas or, more likely, Jordan Henderson add a little physicality to that duo, but after that, the options start to thin worryingly. If nothing else, picking this team will reinforce for Rodgers and his recruitment team that some cover needs to be brought in for our Brazilian. Against Villa, Lucas was imperious in the first half but, like his team-mates, became ragged in the final twenty minutes. A player must be added who can provide competition and cover for this most specialised of positions.

Raheem Sterling, Jordon Ibe and Fabio Borini will all be hopeful of starts in the forward positions and frankly, I can't think of an attack I'd rather see under the current circumstances. Provided the experienced likes of Gerrard, Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho and Iago Aspas reside on the bench as a kind of rescue crew, why not allow these extremely talented youngsters to stake a claim for a starting berth? Sterling is not far away as it stands, and Ibe has shown signs of having a talent and a physicality which may even supersede that of his bizarrely coiffured friend. Borini stepped down to play for the Under 21s last week and scored two fine goals against United. If he was ever ready to seize a first-team chance, it is surely now.

In attack then, thanks to our academy, the options are more plentiful, although Rodgers has been explicit in his references to the need for "quality" additions to the forward positions. It is unlikely that the window will shut without at least one recruit, with the manager citing a left-sided attacker as a particular desire. Such a player would, says the boss, free-up Coutinho to play centrally off Sturridge, the position in which he is at his most lethally creative.

Overall, thinking about Tuesday's match highlights the strengths and weaknesses in Brendan Rodgers' squad with only a week left to rectify the scenario. No doubt, we must be excited at the prospect of watching our existing fringe players develop but that excitement is tempered by the gnawing realisation that any outside hopes of qualification for next season's Champions League is probably massively dependent on adding yet more proven experience to what Rodgers might call, the group.

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