Category: EFL Cup

Leicester 2-0 Liverpool: Shinji & Slimani down Reds.

The personnel changes but the result remains the same, Liverpool dominate the ball but can’t score, at the other end they can’t defend in the air and concede goals.

In a move typical of the recent League Cup both teams picked strong but not full strength teams with Ulloa & Slimani starting up front for Leicester with Demarai Gray in the Mahrez role. For Liverpool Oxlade Chamberlain got his first start in a front 3 with Dom Solanke and prodigal son Coutinho. With the League encounter between these 2 set for the weekend this could have been cagey, Liverpool were not in the mood for that.

They made much the better start with Grujic and Coutinho probing and Solanke going close in the 6th minute with an angled drive following a corner. Andy Robertson got plenty of joy down the left and Liverpool’s high tempo start saw much of the opening period played in Leicester’s half with the Foxes front pair unable to get a foothold in the game.

Robertson was getting acres of space down the left and on 22 minutes his searching cross found Solanke but at full stretch the youngster couldn’t poke home. 4 minutes later Countinho fed Solanke who played in Robertson whose cross just evaded Coutinho- the goal was surely coming.

The one Leicester player causing Liverpool problems was Gray who was running rings around Flanagan on the few occasions he got the ball, but Leicester were being overrun and finding strange new ways to give the ball away, the worst culprit being Iborra who slammed the ball midway through his own half without a blue shirt in sight at the expense of a throw in.

Some tough challenging saw Leicester try to up their tempo but they almost paid for it on 39 minutes when they brought down Coutinho on the edge of the box, but the Brazilian couldn’t find his range with the invitingly placed free kick. In the final minute of the half the diminutive Brazilian danced along the edge of Leicester’s box to play in Solanke who couldn’t get an accurate shot off from a tight angle.

Coutinho was withdrawn at half time and the first move of the half came from Gray who was crudely stopped by Grujic but the youngster got far too much lift on the resulting free kick. At the other end Solanke continued to look dangerous with a shot on the swivel, from the resulting corner  came the key moment in the game- Ulloa was floored by Oxlade Chamberlain’s corner and was replaced by Okazaki.

Gray continued to probe and produced a fine run and shot on 54 minutes whilst Liverpool lacked their earlier fluency without Coutinho, although his replacement Ben Woodburn provided plenty of pace and nuisance value to Leicester’s defence.

But on 65 minutes Okazaki gave Leicester a shock lead, a game of head tennis from a corner finally fell to Iborra and his cushioned header fell into the path of the Japanese international who wanted the ball past Ward 1-0. Liverpool almost found a quick response with Oxlaide Chamberlain sending a teasing free kick across the Leicester box, moments later Woodburn’s dipping shot grazed the Leicester goal.

On 73 minutes Danny Ings made his first appearance in 2 years following a career threatening knee injury and he showed the sharpness of his Burnley days by almost nipping onto a teasing ball just 3 minutes later. But on 78 minutes Okazaki held off some weak Liverpool challenges to play in Slimani who fired a rasping shot from the edge of the box 2-0.

With Liverpool committing bodies forward Gray was finding space to work in and another fine effort from the winger fell just wide of the post on 80 minutes. Liverpool looked increasingly ragged in the closing stages with another Gray break almost putting Slimani in for another but it finished 2-0.

For Liverpool it’s astonishing they failed to score (much like last Saturday) and the result will only ratchet up the pressure on Klopp. It’s a result that will also revive painful memories of Liverpool’s league defeat at the King Power 2 seasons ago when they again dominated the ball but were beaten by that stunning Jamie Vardy volley- will they ever learn?

On the night Leicester were fortunate but it was a much needed tonic after a tough run of fixtures in which they merited points against the Premier League’s super powers but came away empty handed.

As for this weekend’s rematch, surely Liverpool will find the back of the net, won’t they?

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

The Fall and Rise of the EFL Cup

15 years ago the League Cup was in trouble, the games were being played by Premier League development squads and there was nervous talk of the competition losing its UEFA cup berth. The cup has always borne the name of its sponsor but in a difficult climate for the competition signing a sponsorship deal with Worthington’s Bitter was a PR disaster. Talk of the ‘Worthless Cup’ and ‘isn’t that a Rugby League cup?’ seemed to render the competition a joke. Moving the final exclusively to Sky was roundly criticised whilst the FA Cup remained on terrestrial television.

Yet now the EFL Cup is thriving, it continues to provide a pathway to Europe whilst the FA Cup looks to be in terminal decline. Amazingly the turnaround in fortunes isn’t due to any radical change in the EFL Cup (other than the name). The one attempt to alter the competition was a a short lived experiment in seeding the draw.

There are several reasons the sands have shifted in favour of the EFL Cup. One is the competition taking place in the first half of the season means teams are becoming more inclined to play strong (but not full strength sides), knowing you can make a semi final before Christmas means teams are more inclined to pick good teams where as the FA Cup comes in the New Year after the exhausting Christmas period and with the business end of the Champions League to commence.

Another is the competition is not wedded to nostalgia the way the FA Cup has become. The competitions high water mark came in the late 80s when English clubs exclusion from Europe meant the second cup competition took on added value. Despite the lack of nostalgia the League Cup in its various guises (Milk Cup, Littlewoods Cup, Rumbelows Cup) provided many small clubs with their only major cup win- Oxford United, Luton Town & Norwich all won this competition, meanwhile the biggest cup shock in living memory was provided by York City who hilariously stuffed Man United 3-0 at Old Trafford and then held on against a full strength Cantona lead United for a 4-3 aggregate win.

1256755_display_image

Despite these amazing highs the Cup remains steadfastly focussed on the present whilst the FA Cup is dependant on rekindling memories of Sunderland winning in 1973, Ronnie Radford’s rocket and Ricky Villa’s dribble in ’81.

Many felt moving the final exclusively to Sky would marginalise the competition. But with Sky no longer screening the FA Cup or Champions League the EFL Cup has become a key part of the broadcasters Football package rather than a side show.

We’ve also seen consistently good finals and dramatic 2 legged semi finals including a spate of Manchester derbies and fourth tier Bradford’s run to the final in 2013. By comparison in the last 2 decades the FA Cup has served up 1 great final (West Ham 3-3 Liverpool), one great upset final (Wigan in 2013) a handful of good finals and a boatload of duds.

The third round with the European qualifiers added into the mix is usually fun to watch, this week will see Leicester possibly giving Kelechi Iheanacho his first start against Liverpool who will likely give promising strikers Ben Woodburn and Dom Solanke starts. Meanwhile high flying Man City face a tricky trip to West Brom and Barnsley becoming the first side to play a third round cup tie away at Wembley. Perhaps most intriguingly Burnley record signing Chris Wood will have a reunion with his old employers Leeds.

Between now and spring this competition should give us some fun games, new stars breaking through and probably a good final and semi finals.  I picked Everton to win it in preseason but currently fancy Spurs making the final a home game.