A dour first half from a makeshift b-side facing determined opposition that frankly should have gone into half-time a goal ahead was followed up by a somewhat more competent second half that produced a pair of goals and ensured Liverpool qualified for the quarter-finals of this year’s Carabao Cup.
Below we take a look at some winners and losers from tonight’s action, and perhaps rant a little bit about why this competition is dumb.
The Carabao Cup Kings: Since getting picked up by the Reds all the way back in 2014, Divock Origi has never been able to establish himself as a starting level player at Anfield. What he has done, however, is leverage some late and important goals into cult status, and batter the hell out of the Carabao Cup.
In 14 appearances and just under 1000 minutes, Origi has now managed 10 goals and two assists in the competition, making him the surest bet to get on the scoresheet for Liverpool whenever they roll out the B-team. It doesn’t hurt his cult status that the goals are either absolute chaos or Puskas contenders, and tonight’s standing scorpion backheel somehow managed to be both at the same time.
A new contender for the Most Likely to Score in the Mickey Mouse Cup title is Takumi Minamino, who has managed a spectacular five goals and an assist in four games, adding to his tally by stabbing home a poacher’s effort tonight. Divock will have to watch his back if he wants to keep his crown as Carabao King.
We didn’t check ahead of time what the odds were that the pair would score tonight, but it really should’ve been just about even.
Tyler Morton: After impressing in his second-half sub appearance against Norwich in the last round, the expectation was that the 18-year old would get a full 90 tonight, and both Klopp and Morton duly delivered.
He may end up being just a little too ordinary of an athlete to make it at the very top level, but the Greenleas product possesses game intelligence and maturity well beyond his years, constantly scanning and repositioning himself to provide an outlet for team-mates, while displaying both a willingness to put a foot in, as well as an impressive range of passing, springing Neco Williams down the right several times in the second half.
As long as the Reds stay in the domestic cups this season, Morton will be a regular fixture, and one fans should relish getting to watch.
Sepp van den Berg: Liverpool went out of their way to allow Preston to use the on-loan defender against his parent club and the 19-year old hardly put a foot wrong all night, displaying physicality and comfort on the ball as the right-sided centre-back in a back five. Still only a teenager, Sepp isn’t really supposed to be competing for minutes at Anfield for another few years at least, and on current evidence, he is making good progress and may absolutely have a future at the club.
The Magic of the Cup: Up until Minamino put the Reds in front in the 62nd minute, forcing Preston to come out of their shell — and notwithstanding the two occasions in the first half where Preston broke through and should have taken the lead — this was very dreary stuff to watch.
In a season where the value of keeping players fresh has been so clear to see — a full seven-week summer holiday has refreshed some of the Reds’ most jaded players and is largely responsible for the energy and dynamism with which the team is able to play currently — the unnecessary distraction of a second domestic cup competition for the top teams stands in stark contrast.
Top players risk taking the pitch over 70 times in a season as things stand — including international commitments — and the governing bodies are pushing for ludicrous ideas like doubling the frequency of World Cups. What the game needs is fewer fixtures, not more, and in England, the Carabao Cup is a meaningless excess for teams that are playing European football, obvious in the team sheets on offer tonight.
Exactly what the solution is remains unclear — though the removal of a cup that has only existed since the 60s should be on the table — but if the goal is to allow players to stay healthy enough that fans can experience the best possible football every week, then something needs to give, and the FA should prioritise player health over the fantasy of infinite growth and ever expanding profit margins.
What Happens Next
The Reds host Brighton on Saturday, and while the Seagulls are experiencing a bit of a regression in their performances compared to last year, the reverse fixture last season was one of the Reds’ very worst, as the combination of a five-man backline, a mid block, and extremely aggressive tackling largely neutered Liverpool’s otherwise dynamic attack. On a weekend where their main rivals face off with bottom half sides, a win is important to stay at or near the top of the table in what looks set to be yet another season that will forgive very few slip-ups.