Liverpool booked their place in the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup by beating Preston North End 2-0 in a game that was certainly not without its challenges, but gave some fringe stars the chance to impress.
Jurgen Klopp changed his entire lineup from the weekend’s 5-0 thrashing of Manchester United, giving opportunities to many of his lesser-used players and some academy prospects.
Even though the XI he sent out was still strong enough, Preston had the better of the first half. They were unlucky not to take the lead just before the half-hour mark after a triple chance.
Liverpool had plenty of possession but the best chances fell to the hosts before the break.
There was more intent from Klopp’s men after the restart and they were able to calm any nerves when taking the lead just beyond the hour mark.
Neco Williams crossed for Takumi Minamino, who converted in mid-air from close range.
Despite their earlier confidence, there was little threat of a Preston comeback afterwards.
A second goal removed any doubt within the final 10 minutes. Kostas Tsimikas clipped the woodwork with a cross, before Williams brought the ball back infield and Divock Origi brilliantly finished with a flick.
Not everyone who came into the Liverpool lineup took their chance, but here are some of those who did.
As deputy to one of the best right-backs in the world, Trent Alexander-Arnold, chances are limited for Neco Williams. Questions have been raised about his suitability for Liverpool in the long term.
On this occasion, though, the Wales international gave a good account of himself.
He put his body on the line with a goalline clearance via his face to keep the score at 0-0 in the first half. Then, in the second half, he played a major part in the opening goal.
Having moved further forward following the introduction of Conor Bradley, Williams exploited a space on the wing to create the chance for Minamino.
Preston 0-1 Liverpool
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He then set up Origi for the second goal by keeping play alive – even if not in the prettiest fashion – after a rebound.
Williams even had a chance to score himself late on, but was unable to finish. It didn’t take away from his promising display as a whole, though.
Of course, some context is required when viewing Williams’ performance. Preston played well but are not of the same level he would come up against in the Premier League.
So, with all due respect, has he found his level, or was this a sign that he can be useful when needed? Maybe there are elements of truth in both and a loan in the Championship wouldn’t be the worst idea for Williams in the near future.
For now, he remains at Klopp’s disposal. Although opportunities will still be limited, he did himself no harm with this outing.
Making his first Liverpool start after previously featuring from the bench in an earlier round, Tyler Morton wasn’t afraid to get on the ball throughout the game.
A few days before his 19th birthday, Morton generally showed composure. Naturally, there were a couple of shakier moments, but that is to be expected of a teenager taking his first few strides in senior football.
On the whole, his range of passing was tidy and brought a different element to Liverpool’s midfield.
Will he be dislodging the likes of Fabinho and Jordan Henderson any time soon? No, but that isn’t why he was put in the team on Wednesday. This was designed as an experience that will build him up for the future – which could be a promising one.
Often finding pockets of space, he was able to dictate play from deep.
Patience will be required if he is to complete the transition to senior level. But there is clearly something there for the coaching staff to work with.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will likely never recover the initial impact he had after joining Liverpool in 2017. Injury issues have thwarted his hopes of returning to prominence despite the promising beginning to his time on Merseyside.
But every so often he is able to show glimmers of the confident talent he originally proved himself to be. The Preston game was, at times, one of those nights.
Although not every trick he tried came off, Oxlade-Chamberlain was a buzzing presence in the midfield. He was the spark behind their stronger start to the second half, creating a chance with a cross for Minamino and taking aim himself with a close shot from outside the box.
There were some frustrating moments for him, which perhaps summed up Liverpool’s display as a whole. But his game is based on being adventurous, so it was refreshing to see him making such efforts again.
With James Milner, Thiago Alcantara and Harvey Elliott currently sidelined with injuries, perhaps there could be a bit more space for Oxlade-Chamberlain in league matches, even if he won’t be one of the first names on the teamsheet still.
Klopp will likely revert to his usual starters when the focus returns to the Premier League. But after a few bumps in the road, he will have seen enough to remind him of his depth on Wednesday.