League Cup offers respite for struggling Liverpool
MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Out of the Champions League and marooned in mid-table in the Premier League, Liverpool can find solace in its turbulent season by reaching the semifinals of the English League Cup this week.
Lose to second-tier Bournemouth on Wednesday, though, and the pressure will grow on Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers.
Bournemouth will be no pushover, either. Unbeaten since September, the south-coast club is top of the League Championship as it chases a place in the Premier League for the first time and has already beaten top-flight opposition in the League Cup this season in West Bromwich Albion. Bournemouth is also looking for revenge after losing 2-0 to Liverpool in the FA Cup last season.
A long trip south for a match against in-form and fired-up lower-league opposition in a compact Dean Court stadium? It has all the makings of a cup upset.
Chelsea also play away to second-tier opposition in Derby, managed by former England coach Steve McClaren, while Southampton visits third-tier Sheffield United Tuesday.
Tottenham is at home to Newcastle on Wednesday in the other last-eight match.
Here are some things to know about the League Cup quarterfinals:
MIGNOLET WON’T RETURN
Dropped for Liverpool’s 3-0 defeat at Manchester United on Sunday, Simon Mignolet won’t be returning to Liverpool’s team for the trip to Bournemouth.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said the Belgium goalkeeper is out for “an indefinite period” and that Brad Jones will start at Dean Court.
“It is something that can happen to keepers, taking them out of the firing line and give them time to reflect,” Rodgers said.
Mignolet had started 93 straight league games but came under pressure after a string of mistakes and nervy displays.
In 2008, Bournemouth was in the bottom tier of the English league, endangered by a 17-point deduction for financial problems and on the verge of going out of business.
Six years on and saved by the money of a Russian billionaire, the club has no ceiling on its ambitions.
Bournemouth is one of the upcoming teams in English football under the stewardship of a young coach in Eddie Howe who is considered one of the country’s brightest managerial prospects.
Even if Bournemouth loses on Wednesday, Dean Court could be welcoming the likes of Liverpool on a regular basis next season. A 5-3 win over Cardiff on Saturday lifted the team to the top of the League Championship and it is one of the favorites for promotion.
It may be the least of Chelsea’s priorities this season but manager Jose Mourinho has been taking the League Cup seriously.
“He wants to win every competition that he is up for,” Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas said of Mourinho. “He has already told us he wants to win this trophy. It is the first trophy of the season and he wants it.”
Mourinho failed to win a trophy in his first season back at Chelsea in his second spell at the London club. But the Blues are top of the Premier League and also one of the favorites for the Champions League.
Fabregas is available again after suspension and Mourinho must make a call on striker Diego Costa, who may not be risked for a third match in seven days.
Southampton heads to Sheffield United having lost four games in a row in the Premier League to puncture early-season optimism and drop the team from second place to fifth.
United reached the FA Cup semifinals last season and has been in the headlines this season for its aborted attempt to sign Wales international Ched Evans following his release from prison after serving half of a five-year sentence for rape.