Liverpool are one step away from Wembley in the League Cup, but have been promised a testing start to their FA Cup campaign by underdogs Exeter City.
A 1-0 victory at Stoke City in the first leg of their League Cup semi-final on Tuesday has put Jurgen Klopp’s side in a strong position to reach the final at the end of February.
They are also odds-on to overcome fourth-tier Exeter in Friday’s FA Cup third-round tie, but Exeter’s manager, Paul Tisdale, says a run of four straight defeats does not reflect how his team have been playing.
“I’d rather have been winning games going into the match, but I happen to think that we have been playing pretty well,” said Tisdale, whose side have reached round three for the first time since 2005.
“Although we have lost games, I don’t think we have looked like a side that has suddenly lost our energy and our purpose.
“On the contrary, I think we have gained some, but unfortunately it hasn’t manifested itself in any results. We have to gather confidence from that.”
Exeter currently sit 16th in England’s bottom division, 76 places below Liverpool in the English league system.
But Tisdale, in charge since 2006, says that his team will take the fight to Liverpool as they look to pull off a result comparable to their 0-0 draw against Manchester United at this stage of the tournament 11 years ago.
“It’s a compromise between how much you risk, but what we don’t want to do is just go into the game to defend,” said the former Southampton defender.
“We are not just looking to sit back and hold on. I don’t want to do that. I think we need to have some intent about us. I don’t think we should hold back and wait for the game to happen.
“We need to go out and give it a go and get the balance right between risk and reward. Win, lose or draw, we want to finish the game having given a good and positive account of ourselves.”
– ‘Tough run’ –
While Exeter’s best run in the competition took them to the quarter-finals as a third-tier side in 1981, Liverpool are seven-time FA Cup winners.
But the Merseyside giants, who last lifted the trophy in 2006, are likely to be without 10 senior players due to injury for their trip to southwest England.
Defenders Dejan Lovren and Kolo Toure and forward Philippe Coutinho are the latest casualties after suffering hamstring injuries in the win at Stoke.
Daniel Sturridge, Divock Origi, Martin Skrtel, Mamadou Sakho, Jordan Henderson, Danny Ings and Joe Gomez are also absent, leaving Liverpool particularly stretched at the back.
Midfielder Adam Lallana dismissed claims that Klopp’s hard-running tactics are responsible, but he admits that the team’s heavy workload is taking its toll.
“Not every club is in the semi-finals of the League Cup, playing in the Europa League and about to get going in the FA Cup on Friday night,” said the England international.
“We’ve also had some massive Premier League fixtures. It’s been a tough run and with the demands on players nowadays there’s bound to be injuries.
“But we’ll all stick together. I’m sure the lads who are out will be working extra hard to get back fit.”
Klopp upbraided his team after last weekend’s 2-0 defeat at West Ham United, but they will be looking for a fourth win in five games at Exeter’s 8,541-capacity St James’ Park ground.
“We needed to get a result after the West Ham game so we just need to continue and take it into the game on Friday as well,” said Jordon Ibe, scorer of the winner at Stoke.