While Jurgen Klopp was probably aware of MK Dons’ history in the Carabao Cup (see this thriller from 2014), it certainly didn’t deter him from selecting a youthful Liverpool side in their Carabao Cup third-round encounter with Paul Tisdale’s League One team. A routine 2-0 win for the Reds took them a step further in a competition that Klopp has been known for not taking particularly seriously during his time on Merseyside. His youthful approach ended up paying dividends.
Youthful Approach from Jurgen Klopp Sees Liverpool Through
Jurgen Klopp handed debuts to three players from the start against MK Dons. Goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher, back from a broken wrist, started between the sticks, with Andy Lonergan on the bench giving Adrian the night off. Harvey Elliott, signed from Fulham in the summer, and Rhian Brewster a Reds academy product, also came in for their first senior appearances at the club.
While Liverpool barely needed to get out of second gear, despite MK Dons giving them a few scares, particularly in the second half, the trio stuck to their tasks well. Kelleher did what we needed to do when called upon and made the save of the night at point-blank range to deny Jordan Bowery. Elliott showed why Liverpool were so keen to take him off Fulham’s hands and Brewster made a menace of himself for the Dons defence.
Finally Breaking Through
As expected, MK Dons largely just soaked up the pressure in the first half. Given the lack of cohesion between the Liverpool squad though, as the group will have rarely played together before, they were left frustrated for most of the first half.
The front three of Brewster, Elliott and Curtis Jones were ably supported by James Milner in a dominant opening period. The oldest member of the side was meant to be playing at left-back, but such was the space down that MK Dons were leaving down that side, he spent most of the half in a left-wing position, with Jones tucking in closer to Brewster. This meant there was always a chance for Milner to cross as he would more often than not be the man over, but his deliveries were slightly off the money for the most part.
Thankfully, then, the first time Milner decided to shoot instead of cross, it went in. MK Dons had ridden wave after wave of pressure but finally succumbed on 41 minutes. Milner brought the ball down on the edge of the area and drove towards goal. Stuart Moore went to take it into his chest but spilt it over the line, unable to claw it out at the second attempt despite his best effort.
Not Over Yet
A narrow lead at the break was probably all Liverpool deserved from the game at that point, and MK Dons could certainly sense an opportunity. They made a change at half time by bringing centre-back Russell Martin on in place of wing-back Brennan Dickenson which, while it could seem negative, the interchangeability of the Dons defence allows them to make such changes.
It worked for them on this occasion, and they were far more attacking in the second half. Dejan Lovren was forced to clear off the line and Bowery missed two glorious opportunities. Firstly, his header from Hiram Boateng’s perfect cross was miraculously kept out by Kelleher, and he then prodded against the base of the post.
The Dons were made to rue those missed chances though as Liverpool put in almost the perfect cup tie performance. A breakaway from a broken down MK Dons attack saw Milner play a deep cross to the back post, and teenage defender Ki-Jana Hoever arrived to head a second goal past Moore.
Although they were pushed all the way by MK Dons, it was a comfortable, deserved win for Jurgen Klopp and his side. The boss brought on Herbie Kane and Sepp van den Berg late on to also make their Reds debuts on a successful night in Milton Keynes.
It likely won’t be the same approach in the next round however, with Liverpool drawn at home to Premier League counterparts Arsenal. They have already beaten the Gunners in the league this season, so will see this as a perfect opportunity to make the quarter-final of the competition.