Liverpool rotate the squad, leave it late to beat Leeds in EFL Cup quarterfinal
LIVERPOOL, England -- Liverpool struggled to break Leeds down until two late goals gave the hosts a spot in the EFL semifinals.
1. Selection dilemma looms for lucky Liverpool
It's difficult to question Jurgen Klopp's selection approach in the EFL Cup because Liverpool find themselves progressing to the semifinals after beating Leeds 2-0, without the need to rely on their first-team stars.
Rest and rotation appear to be Klopp's philosophy, and with Liverpool going so strong in the Premier League, the tactic is working. But the former Borussia Dortmund manager will have learned a valuable lesson from this narrow victory over Leeds: He has to be careful with his selection gambles.
Ultimately, Liverpool were lucky to defeat a resolute and confident Leeds team at Anfield, with Divock Origi's late goal breaking the Championship outfit's resistance before youngster Ben Woodburn scored a second -- his first for the senior side -- moments later. But after getting the result he wanted, will Klopp stick to his selection policy in the semifinal to keep his squad fresh for the league, or will he choose to wheel out the big guns?
Last season, Klopp complained bitterly about the workload expected of players in England, citing the number of games played while the Bundesliga was on its winter break. Liverpool have been relatively under-worked this season, without the distraction of European football, but January will bring a two-legged EFL Cup semifinal and FA Cup commitments.
Last season, January was when Liverpool showed signs of being compromised by mounting injury problems. This time around, Klopp has to decide whether to risk fielding weakened teams in a two-legged semifinal rather than risk jeopardising title hopes or go for broke to give the club the best chance of winning silverware.
If Liverpool end up facing the likes of Manchester United or Arsenal in the last four, Klopp will face a big dilemma.
2. Reds squad not strong enough
Despite emerging as winners with a place in the semifinals of the EFL Cup -- Liverpool's 17th appearance in the last four of the competition -- Jurgen Klopp will be concerned about the failure of his players to take charge of a game against lower division opponents. For the majority of the game, Leeds were the better team and carried greater threat against a group of Liverpool players who should have treated this tie as an opportunity to convince Klopp of their first-team credentials.
Make no mistake: This was a genuine second-string lineup for Liverpool, with none of the regulars who put the club in the heart of the title race selected by Klopp. His strongest team would have blown Leeds away, but by resting the likes of Jordan Henderson, Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana, and with Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho ruled out due to injury, Klopp made clear his belief that he cannot rely on the same players to perform week in and week out. Liverpool's title ambitions are likely to rest on the depth of the squad and the ability of the fringe players to step in when more established players are unavailable.
Leicester City were incredibly fortunate last season to go through a campaign without serious injuries on their way to the title, but Liverpool have already been hit by the loss of Coutinho. Title rivals Chelsea and Manchester City arguably possess greater squad depth than Liverpool and that might prove to be the key in deciding the title. On this evidence, the likes of Ragnar Klavan, Alberto Moreno and Divock Origi (despite his late goal) fall short of the quality required to make a difference at the highest level.
3. Leeds can bounce back and win promotion
Reaching the latter stages of this season's EFL Cup has helped put Leeds United back on the football map and served as a reminder of the club's size and history, but for all the recognition earned by Garry Monk's team, promotion back to the Premier League is the only objective at Elland Road. Fixtures at Anfield were once the norm, and Leeds want more than fleeting tastes of the high life, but are they good enough to return to the top flight?
Currently lying fifth in the Championship, Leeds are in the playoff pack, and their performance against Liverpool will offer huge encouragement for their prospects of promotion.
Former Swansea manager Monk has moulded a bright, young team in West Yorkshire, and there was plenty of evidence at Anfield of the emerging quality within the Leeds squad. The big question is whether Monk will be allowed to keep his players together when the January transfer window opens because there will undoubtedly be interest in the likes of left-back Charlie Taylor, midfielder Kemar Roofe and winger Stuart Dallas.
Taylor and Roofe certainly impressed against Jurgen Klopp's team, with the experience of Kyle Bartley at centre-half also shining through. Beginning the game with top scorer Chris Wood on the bench, Leeds displayed organisation, tenacity and the sense of a team going places against one of the best sides in the Premier League. Tuesday night's brave performance will only boost confidence and belief within Elland Road that this year could finally see their top-flight exile come to an end.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_