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Liverpool severely weakened for FA Cup challenge

Photo courtesy: The Standard
Klopp has little options to choose from to pick a first team for Liverpool's FA Cup third round tie with Exeter City. Photo courtesy: The Standard
Klopp has little options to choose from to pick a first team for Liverpool’s FA Cup third round tie with Exeter City. Photo courtesy: The Standard

When the FA Cup third round fixtures were announced, Jurgen Klopp would have heaved a sigh of relief seeing Exeter City’s name come up as opponents. However, the situation has changed so much in a month that the Merseyside club are in danger of being upset and knocked out of the competition.

Plagued by injuries, Klopp is expected to field a terribly young and inexperienced side when they travel to the south of England on Friday. And the home side (currently langishuing at 16th in Football League Two, the fourth tier of English football) are odds-on favourites to sneak a victory. Liverpool’s starting XI will likely feature eight players who have appeared for the clubs four times or fewer – three of them will possibly be debutants.

Liverpool have 12 players on the hospital table at the moment, and those involved in the four games over 11 days in the festive period will be given a break against Exeter. That means Nathaniel Clyne, Alberto Moreno and Emre Can will make up 15 possible first-team choices that are unavailable for selection.

Among the injured are the entirety of Liverpool’s central defense. That means Jose Enrique, who has been out of action for nearly a year, and Tiago Ilori, who hasn’t played for the club since his arrival in 2013, could get a call-up.

Enrique, “who?”

Even Klopp isn’t sure about the two. Asked if Enrique would play against Exeter, Klopp replied: “Who?” After getting an explanation, he said: “Hopefully. We don’t have too many centre-backs so it is an idea. But we have to see. He played the day before yesterday as a full-back for 90 minutes. We all need training but in this game we could need his experience.”

Ilori, too, has had hardly any game time. Loaned to Aston Villa, the defender only warmed the bench at best, having never played a Premier League for the bottom-placed side.

“I don’t know how he is,” Klopp said of his potential starter. “He was injured a few weeks ago and now he is in training. I think he played for Aston Villa’s second team a few times and he should be available.”

Klopp, whose side faces Arsenal and Manchester United in the Premier League next week, said: “There are the injuries but you can also be influenced by an intensive period of football [when selecting a team] and so none of the players who played the last five or six games in a row will play at Exeter. That is not possible. Then we can try and make a team. It is not easy, but we will try and find one.”

Klopp’s younglings

Ilori, and strikers Ryan Kent and Sheyi Ojo may make their Liverpool debuts. Full-backs Brad Smith and Connor Randall, the midfielders Cameron Brannagan and João Carlos Teixeira, and the goalkeeper Adam Bogdan could be those players. But the fact that they have collectively played 15 games for the club, will not be lost on the manager.

“It is a chance for Exeter and they have to take it,” he said.

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