The Carling Cup draw has been made, and we’ll be facing Liverpool for the first time since the unlikely pairing of Aliadiere and Baptista led us to a remarkable 6-3 triumph at Anfield in January 2007.
Some may be disappointed that the kids have to face such a big side so early in the competition, but I’m not. After a shock-free round last week, only three of the remaining sixteen are from outside the Premiership, so we were always likely to face opposition from our league. What you want, as with any cup draw, is a home tie. And we got it.
But the real reason Liverpool are such great opponents is that of all the top four sides, they have the thinnest squad, a weakness that this competition has exposed in recent seasons. Like the rest of the top sides, Liverpool play reserves and youths in the Carling Cup, but unlike the rest, those players often flatter to deceive.
That might sound like quite an inflammatory comment, and isn’t intended that way – Liverpool have a fantastic first team these days, but the problem they have is that injuries hit them harder than anyone. Torres is up there with the hottest properties in world football, but if he gets injured, the likes of Voronin and Ngog will start playing on a regular basis. Irreplaceable as Torres is, a team of Liverpool’s stature should not suffer from such a gulf in class.
As an example, one of Voronin or Ngog is third choice striker at Liverpool. Vela seems to be a far bigger talent than either, and is probably struggling to be fifth choice for us. And we’re supposed to lack strength in depth.
I watched most of the Leeds-Liverpool tie last week, and I have to say I was distinctly underwhelmed. If Liverpool are to challenge for trophies this season, they need to not call on too many of those players on a regular basis. It suddenly becomes unsurprising that Benitez blames injuries to Torres and Gerrard for not lifting the title last season, but so wide is the chasm in quality between them and their replacements that injuries due to overexertion become a certainty.
A tough draw in this round was likely, given the strength of opposition remaining in the competition. But tricky as Liverpool will be, ties with Chelsea, Man City and even Spurs would probably be harder given their propensity for fielding sides closer to their strongest eleven.
But Liverpool at home, aside from being a glamorous tie, provides a fantastic opportunity for the kids to win a genuinely big match, roared on by what is likely to be a capacity crowd. They aren’t likely to surprise us by fielding a strong team, as the tie falls three days after their match with United, and three days before a tricky trip to Fulham. It’ll be kids v kids.
It promises to be a great tie, and I have a lot of faith in the youngsters rising to the occasion.