Strength in Numbers: Are Liverpool’s Fringe Players Up to the Job?

- - Analysis

The cup competitions in England are one way for a club to get their hands on some silverware where otherwise they might not have the chance. They are also a great opportunity for beleaguered managers to ‘trick’ their team’s owners into thinking they are doing a decent job – it has worked for Arsene Wenger for the past decade after all!

Jurgen Klopp might not agree, however. The Liverpool boss once again decided that the domestic cups aren’t worth the brass they are made from – as he did in last season’s FA Cup – by fielding a second-string team in the Carabao Cup against Leicester on Tuesday evening.

A 0-2 defeat duly followed, and led many to question the manager’s judgement in fielding an understrength team at a time when there have been a few whispers about his job security – indeed, Oddschecker are suggesting the market is moving in a rather significant way:

We have some sympathy for the beleaguered boss, however. His side have played more matches than any other in the English top flight, what with Champions League qualifiers, the tournament proper and the international break during which many of our players were involved for their countries. It is only early days in the campaign, but it is sensible to rest weary legs when the opportunity emerges – especially in so-called ‘lesser competitions’ like the Carabao Cup.

That said, we must save some criticism for the gaffer. It’s all well and good playing your reserves and youngsters, but ultimately it is down to your dealings in the transfer market that determines how good the second string might be.

And judging by last night’s flaccid performance against Leicester, the conclusion is that, on the whole, they really aren’t very good.

It would be foolish to draw conclusions on just one game of course, but here’s a look at the ratings from last night of those on the periphery at Anfield, and suggestions as to who might have a future at Liverpool Football Club….and who might not.

Danny Ward – 7/10

Given the rotational nature with which Klopp selects Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius, it was something of a surprise to see Danny Ward don his gloves and take up his position between the sticks.

The Welshman did everything that was asked of him: claiming crosses, acting as an auxiliary sweeper at times and generally offering a fairly commanding presence behind a makeshift back four.

Ward could do little about either Leicester goal – the first took a cruel deflection and the second was an absolute stunner from Islam Slimani – and so really can be pleased with his performance. If he is happy being third choice, then he certainly has a future at the club.

Jon Flanagan – 5/10

It’s always a shame to be negative about a Scouser through and through, but Flanagan had a bit of a stinker on Tuesday night.

The right back was ripped to shreds time and time again by Leicester’s winger Demarai Gray, and the Foxes’ man had almost free reign to cut inside and cause havoc in the Liverpool defence.

Flanagan offered little in an attacking sense – a central component of Klopp’s contemporary tactical system – and so really his performance was something of a let-down. He will probably only play a handful more times this season in the FA Cup, and so really you have to ask what exactly is his role at the club?

Joe Gomez – 7/10

In a rare start at centre back, young Joe Gomez stood up well to the physical onslaught of Slimani and Leonardo Ulloa, and his strength and pace looks to be a valuable asset. There is no reason why Gomez cannot be a Red for years to come.

Klopp described himself as being ‘sick’ with Liverpool’s defending at set pieces, and that is a criticism of the collective, rather than Gomez or any other individual.

The 20-year-old is assured in possession, and he could well have nailed down a regular starting berth in the Liverpool defence either at right or centre back by the end of the season.

Ragnar Klavan – 6/10

For once, Klavan actually looked quite comfortable at the heart of defence – perhaps aided by having a quicker man than regular partner Joel Matip by his side.

The Estonian never shirks a physical challenge, and he didn’t do anything wrong on Tuesday, which is a surprise in itself.

We still don’t see him as the commanding centre back that Liverpool needs, but Klavan is a capable understudy to whoever that man may be.

Andrew Robertson – 7/10

Robertson was Liverpool’s best attacking force – which is worrying as a left back, but his forays forward down that side caused carnage in the Leicester backline with a number of intelligent crosses into the box.

Particularly pleasing was his link-up play with Philippe Coutinho, and it will be interesting to see if that partnership flourishes in the coming months. Right now, we are desperate to see both start in a red shirt.

Marko Grujic – 5/10

We’re still waiting for ‘talented youngster’ Marko Grujic to show any sign of fulfilling his potential, and surely a loan move to the Championship or a bottom-half Premier League side is essential if he is to mature as a player.

Klopp doesn’t quite seem to know what his best position is either, selecting him as a defensive midfielder here despite his complete inability to tackle correctly.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – 5/10

The Ox was signed in the player’s belief that he would get more starts in the centre of midfield, but Klopp opted to stick him on the right flank for his first appearance from the start in a red shirt.

It was an unmitigated disaster: time and time again he wasted possession in good areas. His end product is poor, and this is just one area the Ox will need to improve upon if he is to have any sort of long-term future at the club.

Right now, he looks like a sort of Bournemouth or West Ham player rather than a Liverpool one – no offence intended to those teams.

Dominic Solanke – 6/10

Built like a Sherman tank, Solanke’s hold up play was very good and he appears to have an eye for goal.

The only concern is that limited game time might stunt his development, so a loan spell elsewhere in which he can smooth off his rough edges is essential.

Ben Woodburn – 7/10

A real bright spot, Liverpool could have a sensation on their hands in Ben Woodburn.

He boosted his burgeoning reputation while on international duty for Wales, and he enhanced it yet further in the East Midlands with an eye-catching performance.

Fast and tricky, he nearly scored a wonderful goal when cutting in from the left onto his right foot. Woodburn looks ready for more first team action.

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