If there has been one key characteristic from the early weeks of Liverpool’s season, it’s been Jurgen Klopp’s ability to display his new-found strength in depth on a weekly basis.
File this deserved Carabao Cup triumph against Leicester City alongside Newcastle United, Wolves and LASK. With just eight games played, Klopp is already carving out consistent results by utilising everyone within his ranks.
It hasn’t always been the case but the manager has an embarrassment of riches in a squad that is now 19 games unbeaten dating back to early April.
For the fifth time this season, the Reds won 3-1 and this time it was achieved without having to trouble Mohamed Salah, Alisson Becker or Andy Robertson, who all had the night off, and captain Virgil van Dijk and Luis Diaz who both kicked their heels on the bench.
Throw in the fact that Trent Alexander-Arnold and Thiago Alcantara still have to come back into the fold and it’s clear the manager has assembled a sensational squad.
Game-changing substitutions at pivotal junctures has been a consistent theme for Klopp and the Reds boss is calling it to perfection virtually every week just now.
This time, it was the arrivals of Darwin Nunez and Dominik Szoboszlai, in particular, that steered the game Liverpool’s way after Cody Gakpo has cancelled out Kasey McAteer’s early opener at the Kop end. The Reds’ reward is a fourth-round trip to Premier League rivals Bournemouth.
The League Cup might be more important than it initially appeared for a new-look team.
While English football’s secondary competition is usually dead last in the list of priorities for Klopp and his backroom staff, it can most certainly act as a springboard for bigger and better things. Diogo Jota will be the first to echo those sentiments.
Assistant boss Pep Lijnders revealed on Tuesday that Portugal forward Jota told him this week that the best thing about the 21/22 term – when Liverpool scooped both domestic cups before missing on quadruple history by a whisker – was the fact the club stayed in the League Cup all the way to a final they eventually won on penalties.
For the squad itself, it kept everyone sharp, according to Jota’s theory, safe in the knowledge that the next start was never too far away as long as the tournament remained on the schedule.
And for an emerging Reds side looking to take their first real strides forward, that must be quite the incentive.
Klopp made as many as 10 changes in total as starts were handed to the likes of Ben Doak, Ryan Gravenberch and Wataru Endo but it was the selection of Curtis Jones – the one player to keep his place from the win over West Ham – that piqued the most interest.
The midfielder was selected, officially at least, as a right-back and was asked to play the ‘inverted full-back’ role that has become all the rage in recent months at Anfield, with the captain’s armband to boot.
It was an awkward experiment at times from a defensive point of view with goalscorer McAteer finding himself with oceans of space out on Leicester’s left-hand side. The winger was the Foxes’ only outlet as the Reds swarmed their visitors’ half following the opening goal.
Jones was more accomplished performing the ‘midfielder’ part of the complex tactical brief, helping out Harvey Elliott and Doak down the right side of the pitch. A captain’s performance.
After Leicester had taken an early lead following a counter-attack that might have involved a foul on Kostas Tsimikas, the pattern of a high-tempo first half quickly became set as Liverpool pushed in search of a leveller.
Doak struck the underside of the bar while Gakpo was twice denied, first by goalkeeper Jakub Stolarczyk and then Conor Coady, who cleared the Dutchman’s header off the line.
As an attacking unit it was disjointed, which was wholly understandable given the experimental look about the team but they generally responded well to their early concession.
Down the other end, Klopp will be growing increasingly alarmed by how easy the opposition are breaching his defensive ranks at present. Liverpool have just one clean sheet from their eight games.
The impending returns of Van Dijk, Robertson and Alexander-Arnold to a consistent and settled backline will inevitably improve those figures but teams aren’t having to work hard to score against the Reds just now.
It’s concerning ahead of Saturday’s trip to Tottenham Hotspur, a match which has taken on some early-season significance given the start both have made to the Premier League campaign.
Gakpo deservedly drew his side level with a wonderful finish from an enterprising pass from Gravenberch, who can be pleased with his efforts on his first Anfield start of the season.
And once the Reds were even, it never really looked like the Championship leaders had it in them to go again.
Nunez and Szoboszlai provided a perfect illustration of what Klopp is able to do now. The pair immediately added the impetus and the quality needed to take the game beyond Enzo Maresca’s side and it was Hungary captain Szoboszlai who did it with a rasping strike that crashed in off the underside of the bar. He had only been on the pitch five minutes.
Jota wrapped the game up with a minute of normal time remaining with an impudent back-heel to add another to the collective tally for Liverpool’s five-man frontline.
That figure now stands at 16, if you’re keeping count. Such options are why Klopp must be confident about his team’s capabilities in the coming months.
So why shouldn’t Liverpool and their powerful reserves be targeting a record 10th triumph in this tournament? Klopp clearly has the squad to do it.