What initially looked like a relatively benign fixture has now taken on added significance in the past week, as Liverpool's struggles after the international break have seen them lose two straight in league and fail to convince in their last-gasp win over Ludogorets in the Champions League. The League Cup is lowest on the list of priorities for the club this season, a reality that will likely be underlined by the starting eleven we'll see, but a loss here would do little to stem the growing concerns about Liverpool's early season form.
And as has been the case over the past few seasons, they'll face lower-league opposition that will arrive confident of at least giving Anfield a good scare. Middlesbrough are currently fifth in the Championship and are winners of four of their last five in league. Their two League Cup wins have come comfortably, with a 3-0 opening round victory away to Oldham Athletic and a 3-1 win over Preston North End.
Grant Leadbitter leads the squad with six goals, and Kike--who arrived in the summer from Real Murcia--has hit the ground running, scoring four in eight games. We could something close to a full-strength squad given the occasion; in the 4-0 win over Brentford this weekend, manager Aitor Karanka went with Dimitrious Konstantopoulos in goal, Ryan Fredericks, Kenneth Omeuro, Ben Gibson, and George Friend across the back, Leadbitter and Dean Whitehead (who will be suspended for tomorrow's match) deeper in central midfield, with Albert Adomah, Patrick Bamford, and Emilio Nsue providing support for Jelle Vossen up top. Kike, Adam Reach, and Adam Clayton all made appearances off the bench.
Manquillo Toure Sakho Enrique
Markovic Lambert Lallana
There should be plenty of players rested here given their exertions last week, and Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson reportedly join the ranks of the injured. Glen Johnson, Jon Flanagan, Emre Can, Joe Allen, and Daniel Sturridge are also ruled out through injury, and a handful of others--Steven Gerrard, Mario Balotelli, Raheem Sterling, and Alberto Moreno--should either be left out completely or, at most, included on the bench.
Whether or not Brendan Rodgers adheres to that type of approach remains to be seen; in the past he's shown a willingness to feature a nearly full-strength eleven in domestic cup competition (last season against Notts County being one such occasion), but I don't think he can afford to give significant minutes to more than one or two players who featured heavily on Saturday.
Brad Jones should get one of his annual starts here, and we could also get our first look at Kolo Toure after he's spent the entirety of the season to date on the bench. There aren't any candidates to join him outside of the three that played most of the match against West Ham; of those three, Mamadou Sakho played the least, so he should get the nod ahead of Dejan Lovren and Martin Skrtel unless Rodgers decides to use this as an extended training exercise for the Skrtel-Lovren pairing. Javier Manquillo barely played for twenty minutes on Saturday and could return at right-back, while Jose Enrique appears set for his first start to spell Moreno.
After featuring for only the first half at the weekend, Lucas can make a quick turnaround to start as the deepest of a midfield three, while Coutinho is "highly unlikely" to make the squad and Henderson likely still suffering the effects of his injury on international duty. Suso might finally get a chance to operate through the midfield if Adam Lallana features further forward, and it looks as though Jordan Rossiter could be in line for a surprise start unless Rodgers calls on Gerrard yet again, as he's otherwise out of options with Allen and Can both a few weeks from returning. But maybe don't do that, Brendan. Just don't.
Up top it should be fairly straightforward, with the manager already confirming that Rickie Lambert will get his first competitive start as a Liverpool player. He should be joined two from Lazar Markovic, who made the bench on Saturday but didn't feature, Fabio Borini, who started alongside Balotelli on Saturday, and Adam Lallana, who replaced Lucas at Upton Park and impressed for his 45-plus minutes.
Kickoff is set for 7:45PM BST/2:45PM EST, with Sky Sports 1/SkyGo carrying coverage in the UK and LFCTV Go airing the match live worldwide for subscribers. Our coverage will start with the overnight open thread tonight and carry into the matchday post early tomorrow, which will have team sheets an hour before kickoff. Hope you'll be around to join us--if you haven't already, sign up for an SBNation profile and stick around.