Van Dijk embracing Kaide Gordon

Liverpool turn their attentions to the League Cup semis on Thursday night when they welcome Arsenal to Anfield for the first leg. The first leg scheduled to take place at the Emirates was postponed due to a Covid outbreak in the Liverpool squad last week. We preview the game.

It turned out the outbreak was mostly down to false positives, with Trent Alexander-Arnold the only one to actually contract the virus. He’s been in isolation for a number of days and could be involved if he returns negative test results on the 6th and 7th day of isolation.

That should mean Jürgen Klopp will have a stronger squad available to him than we saw against Shrewsbury on Sunday. There were only ten first team players involved in that game, with two being goalkeepers. The rest of the squad should be available if they come through training unscathed in the days leading up to the match.

Arsenal fans made a lot of fuss about the first leg being postponed, which made it all the more ironic seeing their team knocked out of the FA Cup by Nottingham Forest over the weekend. To compound matters, Granit Xhaka has returned a positive Covid test result and is in isolation, ruling him out of this fixture.

Liverpool have quietly been off form recently, with Sunday’s win over Shrewsbury their first victory in the last five. The clean sheets have dried up too, with none coming in the last six. It’s a good thing the away goal rule has been scrapped.

It will be a straight shootout, whichever side wins on aggregate goes through. If the tie remains level after both legs, then extra time will follow, with penalties too if necessary. Jürgen Klopp’s side will be confident of knocking the Gunners out over two legs.

Even without the services of AFCON trio Sadio Mané, Mohamed Salah and Naby Keita, the Reds should have enough to get the job done. That is however dependent on the team the manager picks. With this being a very realistic shot at silverware, it’s expected Jürgen will go full strength.

Get past Arsenal and it’s likely a final against Chelsea (who hold a 2-0 first leg advantage over Spurs in the other semi final) at Wembley next month. Not to mention this is a dress rehearsal for the Champions League Round of 16 knockout tie against Serie A leaders Inter.

With the Champions League also scrapping the away goal rule it will take some getting used to. This tie against Arsenal will be good practice for how to approach a home and away tie without the nuance of away goals in the back of every player’s mind.

Jürgen Klopp at the 2016 League Cup final

The Reds will be aiming to reach their first League Cup final since 2016 where they lost on penalties to Pellegrini’s Manchester City. They haven’t lifted the League Cup since 2012 under King Kenny. Lifting it a decade later to go clear of City as the most successful side in the competition won’t be a bad way to start 2022.

Arsenal will be no pushovers though, they have been on a solid run of form recently, till Nottingham Forest at least. They won five games in a row across all competitions before that controversial defeat to Manchester City. They caused Pep’s side a myriad of problems and were leading at halftime.

Some questionable refeereing decisions cost them that game and if anything, Arteta’s young side took lots of confidence from the performance. They’re currently 4th in the league table and look set to battle the likes of West Ham, Manchester United and North London rivals Spurs for that final Champions League spot.

That defeat to Nottingham has soured the mood though, and they will be looking for a response on Thursday night. They made light work of Sunderland in the quarter finals whereas the Reds edged Leicester City on penalties in that crazy 3-3 game last month.

There’s usually a boatload of goals when these two sides meet. Liverpool have won the last two against the Gunners by a combined score of 7-0. Arteta’s side did knock Liverpool out of this competition at Anfield last season, winning on penalties after a rare goalless draw.

There’s also that crazy 5-5 draw the season before when a largely youthful Liverpool side showed spirit to come back and win a bonkers game on penalties. We could be in for another crazy night at Anfield. There’s also the added spice of Klopp and Arteta going at it on the touchline once again.

Team News

As stated already, Mané, Salah and Keita are away at AFCON. Thiago, Elliott, Phillips and Origi remain out injured. Robertson picked up a knock late on Sunday and may not be risked. It looked like a problem with his Achilles.

Arsenal are also without the quartet of Elneny, Partey, Pepe and Aubameyang due to AFCON. Xhaka could return after a positive Covid test result last week whilst Tomiyasu and Smith-Rowe are expected to be back after missing the last game with knocks.

Key Players

Roberto Firmino

Bobby Firmino is back and raring to go

Roberto Firmino marked his return from isolation with a clever backheel goal against Shrewsbury to take his tally to 10 goal involvements in 16 appearances this season. (7 goals, 3 assists). He’s averaging a goal or assist every 70 minutes. He’s expected to lead the line on Thursday night.

Bukayo Saka

The 20 year old has finally shaken off the Euros hangover that dogged him in the beginning of the season to hit form in recent weeks. He’s netted 4 goals and provided 3 assists in his last 6 appearances. He caused Tsimikas problems in the 4-0 defeat at Anfield and will be looking to do same again.

Takumi Minamino

The Japanese international returned from injury to feature against Shrewsbury on Sunday. He’s in line to start on Thursday night and will want to continue his rich vein of form in this competition. He’s the Reds’ topscorer in the League Cup this season with 4 goals.



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