LFC need to show they have learned lessons against Man Utd
Even in victory, domestic cup competitions continue to cause a problem for Brendan Rodgers.
What appeared a routine procession into the third round of the Capital One Cup turned into anything but on Tuesday night as Liverpool made incredibly hard work of seeing off League One outfit Notts County at Anfield.
It came at a price. Despite fielding a strong starting line-up, the required extra-time period was made more difficult by having to play the final 20 minutes with only 10 men due to a succession of injuries.
Having spoken of learning lessons from last season’s cup calamities against Oldham and Swansea City, Rodgers’ decision to select a side that included Steven Gerrard, Kolo Toure, Glen Johnson and Daniel Sturridge almost backfired.
Now Liverpool must attempt to maintain the momentum of their 100 per cent start to the season by raising their weary limbs for the small matter of Sunday’s visit of champions Manchester United.
“Tuesday wasn’t what we wanted,” admits skipper Gerrard. “We left the ground slightly disappointed. Obviously we are pleased to be through but the entire evening was exactly what we didn’t want.
“We ended up having to play 120 minutes, and a lot of the players who are probably going to be starting on Sunday have played too much football.
“The plan was to get the game won and done and dusted and then try to rest a few for Sunday.
“The only good thing is that because we are at the start of the season, everybody is fit and should be fresh so I’m hoping it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.”
Gerrard admits Liverpool, with young quartet Raheem Sterling, Andre Wisdom, Jordon Ibe and debutant Luis Alberto in the side, would have had only themselves to blame had they not responded from surrendering a first-half two-goal lead to ultimately win 4-2.
“The game got too easy,” he says. “When you have a lot of inexperience in your team, you can sometimes take your foot off your gas and get punished, and that’s exactly what happened.
“We were in complete control and it looked like we were going to win by three, four or five. But when you have a lot of youngsters in your team who maybe don’t know how to see a game out, sometimes you can make it very difficult for yourself and that’s what we did.”
While new boy Aly Cissokho and the hamstrung Joe Allen had already departed early, it was Kole Toure’s groin problem – the Ivorian leaving on a stretcher shortly into extra time – that caused the greater consternation on the Kop, particularly as it left Daniel Agger as the only available senior centre-back to have played this season.
Martin Skrtel should be available for the weekend but cannot be expected to take on the likes of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney at full sharpness having missed the opening weeks of the season with a knee problem.
“There’s no doubt playing extra time was a blow for us,” says Gerrard. “Kolo’s injury came in extra time. He wouldn’t have done that during normal time. We have ourselves to blame for his injury. We have to take responsibility for that.
“There’s an international break coming up, so fingers crossed he doesn’t miss that many games for Liverpool.
“Sunday is a massive game. Kolo has started the season very strongly and we will be very disappointed if he is not fit for the weekend.
“But it’s not looking good, he left the ground on crutches but we’ll see what the scans say.”
The manner in which Liverpool have dropped their intensity in the second half of all three games so far this campaign will no doubt raise questions over the squad’s fitness.
Such issues were evident at Aston Villa last Saturday. After a bright opening was rewarded by Sturridge’s brilliantly-taken strike – the forward’s brace against Notts County now taking him to four in three games for the season and 15 in 19 appearances since arriving from Chelsea in January – Liverpool were second-best following the interval.
There were similar traits in the win over Stoke. And while Liverpool have ultimately yet to be punished for such slackness, United will be a more difficult proposition as the Anfield outfit aim to win their opening three Premier League games for the first time since 1994. Jordan Henderson, who has started Liverpool’s last 10 top-flight games, emerged from the bench on Tuesday to add energy to midfield and contribute the clinching fourth goal.
It was the midfielder's ninth for the club – six of which have come since the turn of the year – and Henderson is determined to keep chipping in.
“I think it's important for midfielders to chip in with some goals,” he says. “So if I can do that it will be brilliant. But the most important thing is contributing to the team.
“It was nice to score. We would have liked the win to have been a lot more comfortable, but things like that happen in football.
“We've got to go on and learn from it and make sure that if we're in that position again, we see the game out a lot more comfortably.
“But it was a very important win to keep that momentum going. We’ve made a good start and another win takes us on to the game against Manchester United.”
When United visited early last season they capitalised on Jonjo Shelvey’s controversial red card to earn an unlikely 2-1 triumph – their first at Anfield in five matches – and keep Liverpool firmly ensconced in the relegation zone.
While much has changed since then, United’s win continued a trend that would be maintained throughout the season, with Rodgers’s side struggling to overcome leading clubs – in 14 games against the top eight, despite some impressive performances Liverpool’s only victory was a narrow 3-2 triumph at home to Tottenham Hotspur.
“We didn’t get what we deserved from the big games last year,” admits Gerrard. “To try and improve on that this season, we have to put in the same effort but learn to start turning draws into maximum points.”
Sunday would be the perfect time to show Liverpool are learning their lessons.