Last night was a massive night for anyone who likes balls being pulled out of pots in a long drawn out fashion. Liverpool now know who they will face in the The Champions League Group stages, the third round of the Carabao Cup and the next stage of The Great British Bake Off. Exciting times indeed.
We’ll tackle the first one first, shall we. My, my, that is a tough Champions League group Liverpool have got with PSG, Napoli & Red Star Belgrade. Full of great players on the pitch and gentleman who would like to injure you off it. The Reds are going to have their work cut out safely negotiating there way through that one, in every sense.
But it was always likely to be that way, to a certain extent. Our years of European exile mean a low seed and, given we managed to get Spartak Moscow as our top seed last season, rather than a Madrid or Barcelona, it was unlikely we were going to be that lucky again. Most would still fancy Liverpool to qualify, I would imagine. Liverpool fans certainly will.
The League Cup draw against Chelsea seems tough on first glance too, but is actually much more positive. Let’s be clear the best thing that can happen in the Carabao Cup is to win it. The second best thing is to go out of it as quickly as possible. Both of those possibilities increased for Liverpool last night, which is great news. Win, and you’ve knocked out a genuine rival for the trophy (it is still the big teams who win it, despite being criticised for not taking it seriously). Lose, and you don’t have to worry about fixture congestion and that mad two-legged semi final in January that no one quite understands. It’s a great draw.
What it all means is that, after a steady start to the season so far when everyone is basically just jostling for position, Liverpool’s season explodes into action in a few weeks time. Between the October international break and the November one Liverpool travel to Spurs, Chelsea and Napoli, whilst hosting Paris St Germain, Southampton, Chelsea again and Manchester City. It’s all action.
But Liverpool should relish this period, not fear it. Not just because big games are basically what you are in it for, but because we are finally in a position to make the most of it. It is what we have been working for ever since Jurgen Klopp took over.
You’ll see plenty of player rotation in that period, but the squad is so much stronger now. Our second 11 is basically the starting 11 from a couple of years ago, plus a few new signings who are finding their feet. I used to spend the first five minutes of League Cup games telling my dad who three or four players were. “Looked good for the U-23s so far this season, scored a good goal against Stoke”. Now it is all likely to be experience and internationals.
Mignolet, Clyne, Lovren, Matip, Moreno, Henderson, Fabinho, Lallana, Origi, Sturridge and Shaqiri could easily be the starting 11 in the Carabao Cup game against Chelsea. None of them have started a game yet for Liverpool this season. That back five, plus Henderson in front was our first choice just 12 months ago. Two years ago Lallana was one of the first names on Klopp’s teamsheet and Origi and Sturridge were competing for the number nine shirt. It’s a second 11 many Premier League clubs would kill to be their first.
There has been some surprise that Jurgen Klopp spent so much on a new defensive midfielder, a position many Liverpool fans have been begging for improvements in for years, and then not even pick him on the bench the last two weeks. But it is possible Klopp always wanted to give Fabinho a bit of time to settle, and had his eye on this run of games of where he would likely to be used, especially away from home. Shaqiri too was always likely to have to wait his chance, and only start when the busy period and squad rotation kicked in.
The next month or so we will see if they have what it takes to be Liverpool players or not. We’ll also see if this Liverpool squad have what it takes to finally compete for trophies across the board. The challenges are plain to see, but Liverpool are better equipped than ever to meet each one. Bring it on, I can’t wait.