These ain’t the midweek soccer games we want. Nor are they the midweek soccer games we deserve. But they are the midweek soccer games we got. So let’s make the best of it godamit.
SHOT IN THE DARK / PICK
As a quick reminder for those of you who didn’t know and/or forgot, the League Cup’s cockamamie structure switches to a home-and-home format in the semi-finals, which has the effect of making things all the more difficult on clubs still in the competition. One of the four still standing – City, Everton, Liverpool and Stoke – is going to raise a trophy next month, while the others will be pissed off they wasted the energy even going for it (though the club’s certified public accountants won’t be too butthurt about the extra games). Everton and Stoke at least don’t have any European competitions to worry about, whereas City and Liverpool are still alive and kicking in the Champions and Europa Leagues, respectively, which means they are in a particularly perilous spot. On the other hand, this is by far Liverpool’s best shot at a trophy this season (same for Everton/Stoke obviously), so Klopp does have some incentive to play something resembling a best XI. Whether he — or the other managers, for that matter – does remains to be seen.
Point being, there are a lot of conflicting motivations pulling clubs in different directions when it comes to Capital One Cup games, which can sometimes lead to strange line-ups and even strangers results. In other words, maybe hold off on betting/losing the 401(k) til this weekend… or maybe the weekend after that since we’ve got FA Cup on the docket Saturday and Sunday.
Stoke has been a tough club to pin down this season. They have outgunned gunners (4-3 over Everton), held court against the Gunners (0-0 vs Arsenal) and been outgunned by the gun-less (0-1 loss to Liverpool – let’s recall this was before the Reds’ recent offensive explosion against defenceless Norwich).
Liverpool on the other hand has turned out to be just about precisely what we thought they were, meaning roughly the same club that finished anywhere from 6th to 8th every season since 2009-10 save for one Suarez-and-healthy-Sturridge-fueled miracle… and anybody suggesting it was not miraculous need only look at how many games Daniel Sturridge has been healthy for in the seasons since to recognize how truly amazing that season was.
As for the here and now, Liverpool is in fact carrying a lot of injuries at the moment (eg, Skrtel, Coutinho, Sturridge, Origi) and Klopp has intimated that Kolo Toure will remain in for Dejan Lovren while Nathaniel Clyne picked up a knock and will be replaced by none other than the beautifulest baby in the whole wild world:
One thing you can be sure of: if Liverpool defends as poorly as they did against Norwich they will get smoked this afternoon because ain’t no way they’re hanging anything close to a 5-spot on Stoke – even if the visitors are missing the services of Ryan Shawcross and Geoff Cameron at the back.
In fact, most people are probably expecting tight, closely controlled game, which would make sense given that Liverpool is up a goal and at home. But my suspicion is that the Reds’ farcical defending plus Stoke’s combination of Bojan Kirkic, Marko Arnautovic and the World Angriest Garden Gnome could make for an exciting game. The long odds for Stoke look miiiiiiiiiiiighty tasty but in the end I just can’t pull the trigger. I’m going with an entertaining 2-2 draw.
So there you have it: a craptastic soccer preview for what could be a fun game but is still being played as part of a craptastic competition. I’ll be back with another craptastic preview of Everton versus City tomorrow. Allllrighty then.
Sam U.L. Army