Tranmere are in trophy action tonight as they entertain Liverpool U21s at Prenton Park.
Tonight’s game will once against be behind-closed-doors, although the reality won’t be much different to other matches played in this tournament last season. The EFL’s ill-thought of competition was already widely boycotted, so empty stadia are the norm for these fixtures.
In pandering to the Premier League and allowing these under-21 teams to enter, the EFL also managed to create something that doesn’t really exist. For many top flight clubs, including Liverpool, under-21 teams simply don’t happen.
Instead, the older Academy teams play in U18 and U23 competitions, meaning that for this tournament they cobble together a mixture of the two and usually assign the U23 coach to manage it.
That is what will happen tonight, as Barry Lewtas brings his young Reds over the Mersey for a run around that nobody really cares about. We may show more interest if there was a prospect of a Wembley final a game or two away, but let’s face it, they haven’t even managed to play LAST season’s final yet, so goodness knows why they are starting the competition again.
Anyway, nothing the EFL does should surprise us. If they’re not shamelessly demoting teams to fit their own agenda or allowing historic clubs to simply fold on their watch, they’re ruining competitions and pointlessly restarting it for the new season despite it remaining incomplete from the previous campaign. They managed to dream up a salary cap though – well done, all.
So, what of tonight. Mike Jackson’s team selection will actually be really interesting. Rovers are desperate for form and goals. The performance at Cambridge on Saturday was a massive improvement on anything we have seen recently and he will be keen to continue that progress.
That said, some players will benefit from a rest you’d imagine. Expect to see Stefan Payne come in for James Vaughan up top, while Kaiyne Woolery may get to play an hour as he tries to build match fitness.
You’d probably also predict a start for Joe Murphy in goal and a return to the team for Mark Ellis and Callum Macdonald. Outside of that, a few youngsters may be on the bench, but Rovers are forced to name a large proportion of the team that played the last league game otherwise the big nasty EFL will fine us. So, it won’t look hugely dissimilar from Saturday.
Liverpool will likely put their team together largely from their under-18 team with a few from the older age group. Ben Woodburn played in their first game in the competition this season (a 6-1 defeat at Wigan), but he looks set to join Hull City on loan and so may not feature this time.
Canadian forward Liam Millar will probably start upfront despite speculation linking him with a loan move to most of the clubs in the Championship. In goal, Caoimhin Kelleher played in the game at Wigan and you’d expect him to do so again tonight. He has been in and around the first team squad a few times in recent months but is probably fourth choice at best.