Given Exeter City’s status as a League Two side and Liverpool’s fixture overload, it was always likely the Reds would give youth a chance in their first match in this season’s FA Cup. Nobody, though, expected a U21 side to be run out by manager Jürgen Klopp.
Following news that Kolo Toure’s cramping against Stoke City on Tuesday was severe enough to rule out the veteran from playing on Friday, that’s just what might happen. At least at the back, where Liverpool currently have a grand total of zero fit senior centre halves available.
"Of course it’s a great tournament, we know about this, but we have to make decisions in this moment for the team," said the manager at his pre-match press conference when asked about the chances he could run out an entirely changed side made up of kids for the FA Cup.
"We have to make changes. That’s all I can say because at this moment I don’t know who is available after training. Phil [Coutinho] is a bit more serious than Dejan [Lovren] and Kolo [Toure]. Kolo was a cramp, it’s not a problem, but after three days it’s not possible to play."
With Martin Skrtel, Mamdou Sakho, and Joe Gomez also out injured along with Lovren and Toure, Klopp has no senior centre halves available for selection. Top U21 prospect Dan Cleary is also reportedly injured, though it has now been confirmed Tiago Ilori has returned to the club.
That means Klopp may have few options but to start the 22-year-old Portuguese defender who arrived at the club with great promise but most recently failed to see a minute of action for an Aston Villa side that, with with a loan fee and purchase option, was invested in his development.
Villa recently chose to terminate his loan, seeing no future for Ilori at the club. He is now likely to start on Friday, either alongside a midfielder—Lucas Leiva seems most likely in that case—or with a youth player. There will be plenty of changes elsewhere, too.
"We will always have good players," added the manager. "Sometimes they will have less experience of course, and we will see. It’s an intensive moment but I’m looking forward to the next week. Tomorrow we have to find a solution for our situation."