Liverpool will play Aston Villa tomorrow night in the EFL Cup quarter-final less than 24 hours before they are due to play in the Club World Cup semi-final half-way across the world in Qatar.
It means Jurgen Klopp’s side will have played three games in the space of five days, following Saturday’s 2-0 win over Watford.
They have been granted permission by the English Football League to field a team “that is largely consistent with those that have participated in earlier rounds of this season’s competition” in tomorrow’s tie against Villa.
Liverpool will likely field a number of younger players as they have tended to in the competition and will reportedly be led by under-23 coach Neil Critchley, with Klopp taking his senior squad to Qatar for the Club World Cup.
Even youngsters Neco Williams and Curtis Jones have travelled for the tournament, while the injured Dejan Lovren has been left behind.
It is the 16th edition of the annual Club World Cup which involves the winners from the six continental competitions plus the host nation’s league winners.
Champions League winners Liverpool and Copa Libertadores winners Flamengo will both join in at the semi-final stage, playing Mexican side Monterrey and Saudi Arabian outfit Al-Hilal respectively after they won their second round ties on Saturday.
However this seven-team, largely uncompetitive affair, is set for an upgrade from 2021, with Fifa President Gianni Infantino announcing plans to expand it to a 24-team competition earlier this year.
There are set to be some teething issues, though, with Infantino looking to incorporate six South American sides and eight European teams. Thus far the European Clubs Association has declared its intent to boycott the new format altogether.
And while plans to host it every four years are favourable, it would clash with the African Cup of Nations, leaving players like Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane unable to play in what would be a blow to Liverpool.
None of that will help Klopp now, however, as he endeavours to fight for trophies on multiple fronts.
Fighting on two fronts
Despite Liverpool being given the all-clear to play a team largely consistent with previous round, they will be without the likes of James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Naby Keita and other senior squad members to have participated in the EFL Cup so far, as well as Jones and Williams.
It means Liverpool’s fate in the competition will lie entirely in the hands of the under-23s, with Harvey Elliot and Rhian Brewster among the more talented youth players tasked with competing for a place in the semi-final.
So far this season Liverpool’s under-23s have not hit the heights of their seniors, sitting seventh of 12 in the Premier League 2 table, drawing 1-1 with Chelsea and losing 4-0 to Totttenham on their previous two outings.
Tomorrow they will come up against a Villa side that has already claimed two top-flight scalps in the competition, beating Wolves and Brighton in previous rounds.
Dean Smith’s side have tended to rotate the squad in this competition themselves, blending a mix of first-team talent with periphery personnel but this time around they may smell blood and opt to put out their strongest possible team, handing a first start in the competition to captain Jack Grealish, with the chance to play in a cup semi-final a real possibility.
It would be a first domestic defeat of the new season for the Reds should they lose, but they clearly have their sights set on bigger trophies than the EFL Cup this campaign as they sit ten points clear atop the Premier League table.
However, their inability to compete for this cup in an appropriate manner raises serious questions of the conflicting calendar scheduling.
While the Club World Cup lacks the prestige of the Champions League it is still a rare opportunity to become the undisputed best club side in world football.
Their participation will also leave them with a game-in-hand in the Premier League run-in after their clash with West Ham this weekend had to be postponed, adding to the growing number of fixtures they are set to play this season.
Should Liverpool’s youngsters pull off a miraculous win in tomorrow evening’s EFL Cup tie then Klopp’s men will also have to play a two-leg semi-final in January as well as the FA Cup third-round tie with Everton.
The congestion has left Klopp frustrated at England’s lack of winter break and the Christmas-January period looks set to be decisive to Liverpool’s hopes of ending their Premier League drought.
They return to action in the league on Boxing Day against second-placed Leicester, but will still be in first place whatever happens this weekend by virtue of the cushion they have already built up.