Liverpool aim to prove doubters wrong again in League Cup semi-final clash with Arsenal

Assistant manager Lijnders confident Merseysiders will step up for second leg after disappointing Anfield draw

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 13: Roberto Firmino of Liverpool is challenged by Rob Holding, Ben White and Gabriel of Arsenal during the Carabao Cup Semi Final First Leg match between Liverpool and Arsenal at Anfield on January 13, 2022 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Michael Regan / Getty Images)
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Liverpool had played against 10 men for almost 70 minutes. Not only had they failed to score, they had only mustered one late shot on target, and against Arsenal, who they had walloped 4-0 when they had a full complement of players. A opportunity to take a giant stride into a first Wembley final for six years had been squandered in a semi-final stalemate. Their chances were being dismissed.

“Everyone was writing us off,” said assistant manager Pep Lijnders. If history should serve as a warning not to write off Jurgen Klopp’s team, who overturned a 3-0 semi-final first-leg deficit to eliminate Barcelona from the Champions League in 2019, it transpired sceptics were Liverpool themselves. In one of his more famous soundbites, Klopp talked about turning “doubters to believers.” Lijnders sensed doubt immediately after last week’s 0-0 draw.

“It is the disappointment of the stadium, it's the disappointment of the fans and it's the disappointment of us as a staff,” said the Dutchman. “It is not the outside world I am speaking about, it is the inside world. We need optimism in our squad because this semi-final is decided over two legs. But from the final whistle at Anfield, we couldn’t wait to go there and create a special day for us. We are Liverpool Football Club and our team proved that we want to attack this competition and reach finals.”

He drew encouragement from another of Liverpool’s 2019 Champions League triumphs, citing the first-leg 0-0 draw with Bayern Munich. Liverpool duly won 3-1 in Bavaria. As Liverpool look for a similar scoreline against an Arsenal side who could be fresher after Sunday’s North London derby was postponed, it creates the possibility for a redemptive moment for Takumi Minamino. The Japanese forward missed Liverpool’s lone golden chance in injury time last week, but scored as a substitute against Brentford on Sunday.

“When we signed him we knew he had a lot of goals in him,” said Lijnders. “He has this proper finishing attitude and he always finds these moments to finish.” Minamino is set for a return to the starting 11 as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s ankle injury denies him a reunion with his former club. Minamino’s scoring touch will be more important with Liverpool without five options in attack, with Divock Origi still sidelined, Harvey Elliott not yet ready to make his comeback and Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane at the African Cup of Nations.

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