Liverpool’s injury woes continued after Jordan Ibe pulled a hamstring in training, leaving pundits worldwide desperately delving into Liverpool U21 records, horses across Merseyside scrambling to hide their placenta, and Liverpool fans struggling to recall exactly how Jose Enrique is still a professional footballer at Anfield.
Liverpool’s situation is so dire that the Spanish full back, who has played less than 90 minutes of first team football since December 2014, will likely partner Ilori, who was recalled from his Villa loan, in central defence. After a run of 5 matches in 13 days, and with Arsenal and Manchester United fixtures looming on the horizon, Klopp is unlikely to risk many, if any, first team players against Exeter, setting up an exciting tie.
Academy products Randall and Smith will likely feature, playing at the full back positions. Moreno and Clyne remain uninjured, despite their explosive pace and tender hamstrings, but the two have had a relentless run of fixtures, and will have to be rested. In midfield, 19 year old Cameron Brannagan may well wear the captain’s armband. Klopp rates the youngster highly, saying he possesses ‘everything a midfielder should have,’ and he will need to play to his full potential in the heart of this makeshift side.
Brannagan looks to be one of the only central midfielders available to Liverpool, though James Milner could possibly deputise here as he builds up match fitness after injury. Milner would of course captain the team if selected, and his experience could be vital, while Joe Allen is another more experienced option who could play in the centre of the park. Klopp may wish to preserve his remaining first teamers for Arsenal, however, and so Pedro Chirivella could partner Cameron Brannagan if Klopp throws caution, and experience, to the wind.
Ryan Kent was recalled from a reasonably productive loan spell at Coventry, where he scored his first professional goal, and the tricky young winger will certainly start. On the other flank Kevin Stewart, recalled from Swindon, will play in a more advanced role than he was used to at the League One side, where he played full back. Centrally, Liverpool have problems. Tony Barrett of the Times expects Jerome Sinclair to start, but the forward seems to have an uncertain future at Anfield, and Sheyi Ojo may well be preferred in the striker’s role, backed by the tricky but inconsistent Teixeira.
As for Exeter, they will be hoping to seize the moment and capitalise on Liverpool’s misfortune. The Grecians have lost all of their previous five meetings with Liverpool, and are currently on a run of four losses, but now is certainly the time for a bit of cup magic. Forward Tom Nichols will be the man to watch, with ten goals from sixteen starts so far this season, while similarly named Alex Nicholls could be a threat from wide positions. David Wheeler has been a key man in midfield for Exeter this season, and will hope to pass a late fitness test.
Exeter manager Paul Tisdale vowed that his side would not be cowed by Liverpool, asserting that Exeter would ‘strike a balance’ and get forward into goalscoring situations. Against such a ravaged Liverpool side, Exeter will hope for more than that, and the underdogs could well be worth a bet at 5/2 with Bet365. It will be a rare televised game at Exeter’s St. James’ park, and we are likely to see plenty of passion and desire from the home side. Liverpool will need to hope that their youthful prospects show the same drive, and aren’t bullied off the park by a team that will be smelling blood.
PROBABLE Liverpool XI: Bogdan, Smith, Ilori, Enrique, Randall, Brannagan, Milner, Kent, Teixeira, Stewart, Ojo