The Carabao Cup is dead? Nobody told Origi & Liverpool's young guns
The remarkably resilient Reds came from behind three times to draw 5-5 with Arsenal before progressing to the Carabao Cup quarter-finals on penalties
The Carabao Cup is dead, is it?
Try telling that to this Liverpool side, this mix of youngsters and squad players who somehow managed to produce one of the most remarkable cup ties in memory.
Try telling Curtis Jones, the home-grown hero whose nerveless penalty sent Jurgen Klopp’s side through to the quarter-finals, after a breathless night under the Anfield lights.
Try telling Caoimhin Kelleher, whose save from Dani Ceballos earlier in the shootout was enough to tilt the tie in the Reds’ favour once and for all.
Arsenal will wonder how on earth they are heading back to London with nothing, having led comfortably at more than one stage. Unai Emery’s side squandered leads of 3-1, 4-2 and 5-4, but were taken to a shootout by Divock Origi’s stoppage-time equaliser as a pulsating 90 minutes ended at 5-5. They then lost 5-4 on penalties.
“When two teams want to attack and have fun,” tweeted Robin van Persie, the former Arsenal striker as the goals flowed. He was spot on. Anfield is usually a tense place, so precious are Premier League or Champions League wins. This was different. This was…fun.
These were two much-changed teams, and two teams for whom defence was barely even an afterthought, but what entertainment they delivered. If there’s a madder game this season, it’ll be worth watching.
What courage this young Liverpool side showed. They were dead and buried, once, twice, three times, naive defensively and feeling the intensity against a Gunners side which could boast far more top-level experience, top to bottom. It was set to be a chastening night, one to be filed as ‘a learning experience’.
But something has happened at this club, something which makes accepting defeat an absolute no-no. You never give up if you wear red. The first team don’t do it, so why would the second-string and the kids?
“Our identity is intensity,” said assistant manager Pep Lijnders on Tuesday. His players got the message.
Their desire was summed up by a debutant. What a performance Neco Williams turned in at right back. It was the Welshman’s cross, well into added time, which allowed Origi to sweep home the leveller for 5-5. Origi, of course, knows exactly where to be when his team need him.
He’d scored the fourth too, although Joe Willock’s screamer looked to have won it for Arsenal soon after. Their fans, packed into the Anfield Road end, could barely believe what they were witnessing. Emery, again, has some explaining to do. He can’t even blame Granit Xhaka for this one.
As for Jurgen Klopp, he refused to pick the bones out of a slipshod defensive display, in which Liverpool conceded five at home for the first time since January 2007 and another League Cup tie against Arsenal.
“I couldn’t care less about the goals we conceded tonight,” Klopp said afterwards. “I can’t remember when I last had as much fun at a football match!”
However, he may well have been disappointed with the contributions of some of his senior men.
Adam Lallana was swamped at times in his new holding midfield role, while Naby Keita departed early, perhaps with another injury, after a low-key 55 minutes. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored a worldie, but didn’t do too much else. Even he admitted afterwards that his quality had not, for the most part, been there.
Origi delivered, though, and his desire in the second half seemed to lift those around him – including the crowd.
Harvey Elliott, the youngest player ever to play a competitive game for Liverpool at Anfield, kept going to the very end and carried a threat throughout. Williams grew into the game and got stuck right in, Rhian Brewster came alive, Jones emerged from the bench to make a difference.
The young Scouser looks the closest of all, physically. Left out of the starting XI, he made his point in the best possible manner. It was fitting that he should convert the final spot-kick. He looked like a first-team player when he came on.
All in all, a wonderfully entertaining night, one which will live long in the memory for all who were here to witness it.
Liverpool march on. Only Arsenal will know how, though.
The magic of the Carabao, you could say…