As Premier League sides across the country find themselves victims of the magic of the Carabao Cup™ — either through penalty shootouts or genuine thumpings — Liverpool make relatively easy work of League One’s MK Dons, defeating the Buckinghamshire outfit 2-0 after an enjoyably energetic affair.
Handing debuts to four players, Jürgen Klopp put out a hungry, youthful side, who — despite the occasional moment of inexperience — did well to overcome their hosts and bring a deserved win back to Anfield. Below are a few of the talking points worth bringing up in the aftermath.
Winners and Losers
The yutes: They did real well! Harvey Elliott was the obvious standout on the night, hitting the bar twice, setting up four or five chances for team-mates and generally looking the Reds’ liveliest and most threatening attacker on the night, but credit should also go to Ki-Jana Hoever, who despite an otherwise unremarkable performance scored the second goal, and Caoimhin Kelleher, who saved the visitors on more than one occasion with excellent saves, and looked cool and composed with the ball at this feet throughout.
Rhian Brewster, Curtis Jones, and Pedro Chirivella were varying degrees of successful on Wednesday night, with none of the youngsters looking out of place against senior — albeit third level — opposition, which bodes well, both for the future of the Merseyside club, as well as the careers of the players in question.
Fixture fanatics: Hey, if you like watching the Reds, there’s going to be ample opportunity this year! Even if Liverpool are eliminated at the earliest possible stage of every competition, they will still play a minimum of 50 games in the 2019/20 season, and realistically, that number will end up closer to 60. Every EFL and FA Cup win adds to the volume of minutes you can spend watching your beloved Reds, so congratulations!
Also, it is likely that the players involved in the above will be the same ones that put the Dons to the sword tonight, so if you enjoy keeping an eye on the Liverpool stars of the future, that’s a double win for you.
Stuart Moore: The Dons keeper will be kicking himself for allowing James Milner’s effort to slip through his hands and into the back of the net, particularly so close to half-time. The hosts had done a fine job of stymieing their visitors up until that point, and had they made it into the tunnel with the scores even, would probably have felt even more confident in their chances of causing an upset.
You supposedly create your own luck, though, and the breaks once again went Liverpool’s way, giving Klopp a much easier task at half-time.
The ruster bunch: Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keïta sure looked like they hadn’t been playing regular first team football for a minute, huh. Luckily there are lots of fixtures to go around in the coming weeks, and that match fitness is bound to come, growing pains or no.
Where Liverpool’s wide attackers are normally only nominally that — in practice functioning as strikers when the Reds are in the final third, despite their wider starting positions — actual attacking width is typically provided by Liverpool’s fullbacks. Luckily, two of the finest in the world — ridiculously snubbed for FIFA’s Best Eleven last night — are currently plying their trade at Anfield, and Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson carry the creative load with aplomb, combining for 23 league assists last year, and hitting four already this season.
Against the Dons, however, both first-choice fullbacks were rested, and the Reds’ offense suffered for it. Harvey Elliott — a modern inside forward — and Curtis Jones — a central attacking midfielder — were tasked with providing width, while support from the backline came in the form of tweener central defender Ki-Jana Hoever and makeshift inverted fullback James Milner, neither of which offered an outside option, typically preferring to come short and to the inside of their attackers.
In theory, the central midfield of Naby Keïta, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Adam Lallana were likely supposed to be creative outlets in lieu of the fullbacks swinging in crosses, but in practice, it all mostly lead to a crowd of players filling the same central space in the front of the Dons area. As a result, the Reds struggled to create clear chances against an established defence, and largely had to rely on their pressing and transition game for their openings.
In and of itself, this is not a big issue, but if Liverpool should find themselves requiring creativity from central areas rather than out wide some time this season, this match will be a relevant data point regarding their ability to do so.
What Happens Next
The Reds are right back at it Saturday lunch time, as they travel to Sheffield United for a fourth consecutive away match only 12 days. The Blades have had an auspicious start to the season, sitting solidly mid-table on eight points, alongside the likes of Tottenham, Manchester United and Chelsea. Their overlapping centre-backs are the talk of the tactics town at the moment, and Oliver McBurnie is going to piss a lot of people off if they haven’t watched him play already.
Until then, it is a matter of recovering and laying the foundations for hopefully continuing Liverpool’s perfect start to the season.