EFL Cup

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Klopp to take first team to Club World Cup, leave youth for EFL Cup

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Jurgen Klopp has chosen his strongest possible Liverpool squad to take to the Club World Cup later this month, leaving a reserve- and youth-laden team behind to compete in the EFL Cup during the same period.

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Liverpool will head to Doha, Qatar, for the Club World Cup, where they’ll play their semifinal fixture against one of Monterrey (Mexico), Al-Saad (Qatar) or Hienghene Sport (New Caledonia) on Dec. 18. The day prior, on Dec. 17, the Reds will also play away to Aston Villa in the quarterfinals of the League Cup. With the club’s star-studded first team in Qatar, progression to the semifinals of the League Cup will be down to a team full of teenage prospects.

Only defender Joel Matip and midfielder Fabinho, both of whom are currently injured and unavailable, were left out of the Club World Cup squad.

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Players suffering from illness or injury prior to Liverpool’s first Club World Cup game can be replaced in the squad up to 24 hours before kickoff.

Liverpool’s Club World Cup squad

Goalkeepers: Alisson, Adrian, Andy Lonergan

Defenders: Virgil Van Dijk, Dejan Lovren, Joe Gomez, Andrew Robertson, Trent Alexander-Arnold

Midfielders: Georginio Wijnaldum, James Milner, Naby Keita, Jordan Henderson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Adam Lallana, Curtis Jones, Harvey Elliott, Neco Williams

Forwards: Firmino, Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Xherdan Shaqiri, Rhian Brewster, Divock Origi

Liverpool fixture congestion presents serious conundrum

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While many folks were still catching their breath, the wild Liverpool win over Arsenal on penalties in the EFL Cup two days ago caused a number of executives and officials to groan.

Jurgen Klopp brought Liverpool’s fixture congestion issue to the forefront with his surprising threat on Wednesday that the club could pull out of the EFL Cup. While that remains highly unlikely, the problem for the Reds is real, and lots of shuffling will likely have to happen for the Reds to fulfill all its commitments this season.

With lots of possibilities thrown into the air of late, here is a breakdown of where the club currently stands.

Current commitments

“You go through the fixture list, trying to fit in the Carabao Cup game and go ‘wow!'” Klopp said in his press conference on Friday. “There’s a long way to go, problems to sort and a lot of yards to run. But it’s the basis we’ve created and it’s a lot better than we could have expected, points-wise.”

Liverpool is at the moment locked into a significant number of commitments. Here is where they stand in all competitions outside the league at the moment:

Champions League – vs. Genk 11/5, vs. Napoli 11/27, @ RB Salzburg 12/10

FA Cup – draw has not yet taken place, first possible game 1/3

EFL Cup – @ Aston Villa 12/17 (quarterfinals), vs. TBD 1/7 or 8 and 1/28 or 29 (semifinals, if necessary)

Club World Cup – vs. TBD 12/18, vs. TBD 12/21 (competition takes place in Qatar)

Conflicts

As you can see above, the conflict presents itself between the Club World Cup and the EFL Cup match against Aston Villa. It would be impossible for the club to fulfill the schedule as currently constructed, playing at Aston Villa on December 17 and then flying to Qatar for its first Club World Cup match on December 18.

Rescheduling the EFL Cup match has been an absolute nightmare thanks to other conflicts as well, with Liverpool booked midweek for the next few months. Following the November international break, Liverpool has its Champions League game against Napoli on 11/27 followed by a pair of Premier League games against Bournemouth and Everton both scheduled for the next week. Liverpool then plays its final Champions League game against RB Salzburg on 12/10 before the Club World Cup trip the next week.

The festive period comes next with league games against Leicester City, Wolves, and Sheffield United through 1/2, and then the first leg of the EFL Cup semifinals are scheduled for the next week, leaving no time for the quarterfinal to be rescheduled anywhere in that span.

Possible solutions

“The discussion is obvious, that it is too much,” Klopp said on Friday. “It is absolutely obvious. Everyone involved in the game knows. Nobody wants to touch it, nobody really discusses about it. Then Uefa decides to make the Nations League, give the successful players a couple of more intense games.

“People then say you need a bigger squad. The game is not made for bigger squads. At the moment there is an imbalance between the number of players in the squad, the competitions you play and a big gap between the breaks the boys need. They have two weeks off a year, in a physically demanding game. The solutions, I think there are a few possible, but the leagues have to sit and really discuss and think about the players and maybe not their wallet. We discuss it always on the back of the money we earn. Somebody has to think about how many games.”

According to Dale Johnson of ESPN, the most likely solution would be to play the quarterfinal against Aston Villa on 1/7 and postponing the ensuing semifinal first leg originally scheduled for that day to a later date. However, even that presents potential conflicts as the next few weeks are reserved for FA Cup matches, and potential FA Cup third round (1/14) or fourth round (2/4) replays for either participant could cause further havoc.

Another potential solution could be to move the club’s Premier League game against Watford (originally scheduled for Saturday 12/14) to Friday 12/13 and playing the EFL Cup game against Aston Villa on Monday 12/15 before the club departs for Qatar. That would also require the Premier League to reschedule Aston Villa’s game against Sheffield United (originally scheduled for Saturday 12/14) to Friday 12/13 to accommodate the move.

Winter break

The danger of pushing games back as previously suggested presents itself as the club just pushes back the problem to a later and later date. Should the schedule conflicts continue to be shoved further down the calendar, the winter break comes into play. Liverpool is scheduled for a break between games on 2/8 and 2/22 as all Premier League clubs are this season with the league hoping to slowly build a stoppage into its schedule ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar that will require such a scheduling quirk.

Klopp has maintained that the club will not accommodate any alteration to its winter break, thereby subjecting it to a disadvantage to other clubs in the English top flight. This means any FA Cup or EFL Cup fixtures pushed back into February will have to be seriously postponed and could come up against other Cup fixtures or even Champions League knockout stage games.

Klopp’s threat

Could Liverpool really drop out of the EFL Cup altogether to alleviate their fixture congestion? It’s unlikely, and there is no precedent for such a drastic measure. Because the club has already entered the competition and begun play, dropping out would incur a hefty fine.

Manchester United pulled out of the FA Cup in the 1999/2000 season thanks in part to the FIFA Club World Championship, but that saw the club withdraw from the competition before play began, meaning they were not drawn into the competition and given fixture obligations.

Leaving the fixtures as they are and having Liverpool play a youth squad in the EFL Cup is also not an ideal option, Klopp said when asked about the possibility on Friday. “We have discussed it already and we have to because there’s not much time to make that decision,” Klopp said. “If we do play [the EFL Cup] while we are in Qatar, that will be two different teams. But we cannot leave any players at home for the Carabao Cup. We have two games in a busy period and it’s not like we can go there [Qatar] with 11 players. It doesn’t work like this. We have to make a decision but not yet.”

EFL Cup Wed. preview: Liverpool host Arsenal; Chelsea v. Man Utd

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After five EFL Cup clashes were played on Tuesday, three more remain in the round of 16 on Wednesday, featuring six Premier League sides and a pair clashes between “big-six” sides.

[ EFL CUP: Man City cruise past Saints; Everton, Leicester into QF ]

First up, it’s PL leaders Liverpool hosting Arsenal at Anfield, where the two sides met back in August. Liverpool cruised to a 3-1 victory that day, extending their unbeaten run against the Gunners to nine games (all in the PL) since their last defeat in April 2015.

Jurgen Klopp‘s side could be without superstars Mohamed Salah (ankle) and Virgil Van Dijk (dead leg), should the manager opt to play it safe after the pair suffered minor injuries in the Reds’ 2-1 comeback victory over Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday. For Liverpool, winning on Wednesday is all about momentum as they attempt to keep alive their unbeaten start (11 games) to the domestic season (only loss to Napoli, in Champions League).

As for Arsenal, progression to the quarterfinals would provide a sense of normalcy and calm following the club’s latest crisis. Granit Xhaka has come under harsh scrutiny after he swore at fans and removed his shirt in response to being booed by his own fans as he was subbed off during the Gunners’ 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace on Sunday. The club’s captain is said to be “devastated and sad,” according to manager Unai Emery. Fortunately for Emery, the EFL Cup is the ideal time to rotate his squad and shield Xhaka from additional scrutiny.

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Meanwhile in London, a Chelsea side riding its best run of results all season (seven straight wins – all competitions) will welcome Manchester United to Stamford Bridge. Frank Lampard’s side beat Burnley 4-2 on Saturday, a game which featured the first goal (and hat trick) of Christian Pulisic’s Chelsea career. Given his standout performance on the weekend, Pulisic could find himself rotated out of the squad for Wednesday’s game with an eye toward facing Watford in PL play on Saturday.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, on the other hand, doesn’t have the same luxury of squad depth these days, with the likes of Paul Pogba (ankle), Eric Bailly (knee), Nemanja Matic, Luke Shaw (hamstring), Axel Tuanzebe (hip) and Diogo Dalot (groin) all currently out injured. Recent results, however, favor Man United as the Red Devils are unbeaten in their last four meetings with the Blues, including a 4-0 destruction of Chelsea at Old Trafford in August.

Wednesday’s EFL Cup schedule

Liverpool v. Arsenal — 3:30 p.m. ET
Aston Villa v. Wolverhampton Wanderers — 3:45 p.m. ET
Chelsea v. Man United — 4:05 p.m. ET

EFL Cup: Man City cruise past Saints; Everton, Leicester into QF

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A roundup of all of Tuesday’s action in the EFL Cup round of 16…

[ MORE: Cryptic Zlatan Ibrahimovic hints at return to Spain ]

Manchester City 3-1 Southampton

The two-time defending holders reached the quarterfinals of this season’s EFL Cup with a comfortable 3-1 home victory over Southampton, courtesy of goals scored by Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero (twice).

Otamendi got the scoring started when he headed home Bernardo Silva’s corner kick in the 20th minute. Aguero scored either side of halftime, first by applying the simple finish to Kyle Walker‘s cross in the 38th minute followed by a tap-in from Riyad Mahrez‘s pinpoint service in the 56th. Aguero bagged his brace to mark his 350th appearance for the club (all competitions).

Southampton scored from a corner kick of their own, but it was too little and too late when Jack Stephens headed home James Ward-Prowse‘s ball in the 75th minute. Claudio Bravo wasn’t forced into making his first save of the game until the 65th minute.

Everton 2-0 Watford

Everton scored twice during the final 20 minutes to survive a ropey encounter with Watford at Goodison Park. Mason Holgate put the hosts ahead after 72nd minutes before Richarlison put the game out of reach with the Toffees’ second goal in the 92nd.

Everton boss Marco Silva was forced to make two subs before the second half begin. Defender Yerry Mina lasted just 41 minutes before suffering an injury, and Moise Kean was subbed off at halftime after struggling to produce in the first half.

Burton Albion 1-3 Leicester City

Leicester followed up their 9-0 drubbing of Saints by putting three past League One side Burton Albion. Kelechi Iheanacho and Youri Tielemans put the visitors 2-0 ahead after 20 minutes, but the Brewers fought their way back into the game through Liam Boyce‘s goal in the 52nd minute.

The game remained 2-1 until the final minute of normal time, when James Maddison slammed home a cross from Demarai Gray to make it 3-1 and put the Foxes at ease.

Elsewhere in the EFL Cup

Oxford United 1-1 (4-2 PKs) Sunderland
Crawley Town 1-3 Colchester United

League Cup Weds. preview: Lampard meets Chelsea, London Derby at West Ham

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London is very much in focus for a quartet of League Cup matches on Wednesday in England.

Five of the eight participants call London their home, which of course means there’s a derby in the bunch.

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That’s Tottenham Hotspur‘s visit to West Ham United, the first Cup meeting between the clubs since the third round of the 2003-04 League Cup.

Spurs played Monday in a rough 1-0 loss to Man City at Wembley Stadium, while West Ham has been off since Saturday.

It’s one of three 3:45 p.m. ET kickoffs in London in addition to South London club Crystal Palace‘s trek north to Middlesbrough at 4 p.m.

That one’s a Tony Pulis Derby, with the Smoggies’ coach hosting the club he managed from 2013-14.

Unai Emery‘s Arsenal will look to start a new winning streak following a 2-2 draw with Palace this weekend. Expect a second-string side against Blackpool, with the Gunners gearing up for a Saturday visit from Liverpool.

Finally, a neat little match-up at Stamford Bridge, where several Chelsea connections will be with Derby County. Loanees Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori will be allowed to play for ex-Blues midfielder Frank Lampard in the match.

“We believe that by playing against us is an opportunity for them to grow up quicker,” said Chelsea assistant Gianfranco Zola. “The more they play against Premier League teams the more experience they get, and we can make better evaluations on them.”