No club in the country loves the League Cup quite like Liverpool. Be it the Milk Cup, Coca-Cola Cup, Worthington Cup or Carling Cup, it is a tournament the Merseysiders have won a record eight times and the evidence of the early rounds of this newly rebranded EFL Cup is that Liverpool mean business this year once more.
Beaten on penalties by Manchester City in last season’s final, Jürgen Klopp’s team dismissed Derby County at the iPro Stadium last night in the same authoritative fashion they had overwhelmed Burton Albion 5-0 just down the road in the previous round.
They got only three goals this time – from Ragnar Klavan, Philippe Coutinho and Divock Origi – but their performance underlined manager Jürgen Klopp’s wish for a team with no European distractions to take this competition seriously. As their fourth victory in five games, it also underlined that Liverpool appear to have found an impressive winning groove.
“It is a very important tournament and if it is like this, you have to show it from the first second,” said Klopp whose starting line-up showed seven changes from the side that won at Chelsea last Friday, but crucially featured a strong front three in Roberto Firmino, Coutinho and Origi.
There was a first start in midfield for the Serbian Marko Grujic and a debut for goalkeeper Loris Karius. The £4.7m signing from Mainz had been unavailable until now owing to a broken hand, and this proved a gentle introduction given the way Liverpool dominated from start to finish. Such was their dominance, in fact, that Klopp ended the evening by unleashing another debutant on the field in 18-year-old midfielder Ovie Ejaria and giving a first run-out of the campaign to Danny Ings.
It was an altogether different evening for the goalkeeper at the other end of the pitch, 21-year-old Jonathan Mitchell, who was in the firing line on his home debut. Mitchell was playing because of an illness to Scott Carson, once of Anfield, and he kept his goal intact for just 24 minutes before centre-back Klavan’s close-range opening goal.
Nigel Pearson will not enjoy reviewing his team’s defending for the Estonian’s first Liverpool goal. Philippe Coutinho’s corner sailed over two Derby heads at the near post, Richard Keogh missed the ball as it dropped, and Klavan’s shot found the net with the help of a deflection off Cyrus Christie.
“We knew we had to be at our best and making mistakes that cost you goals is something we could have done without,” said Derby manager Nigel Pearson, who reserved his praise for his new goalkeeper, adding: “He deal with the occasion very well.” Mitchell made two impressive saves before the break – foiling Origi at the near post and then turning over a Coutinho free-kick – but he was helpless to stop Coutinho when he threatened again five minutes after the restart.
The little Brazilian picked the ball up 45 yards from goal and, via a lovely a one-two with Firmino, stepped into the Derby box where he took one touch and rolled a precise finish past Mitchell.
Coutinho then turned provider for the third goal, teeing up Origi to bury a shot high into the net at the near post. Red waves kept rolling to the Derby goal and it took an excellent Mitchell save to stop Firmino volleying a fourth goal after more good work by Coutinho.
For Derby manager Pearson, this was a defeat quite in keeping with his difficult start at the iPro Stadium, his team having recorded just one win and two goals from their opening eight Championship matches. His five changes for this match included a recall for Darren Bent, a man who, in the red and white of Sunderland, once scored a goal against Liverpool with the help of a beach ball. Bent received precious little assistance here and when he did get a sniff of a chance, surging on to Bradley Johnson’s through-ball moments before the break, he was foiled by smart footwork from Karius, who – Manuel Neuer-style – showed brilliant anticipation to race out of his box and slide-tackle the Derby man.
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