Liverpool will face Shrewsbury Town on Sunday in the fourth-round of the FA Cup. Here is one key battle that could have a big impact on the final result.
There is no doubt that the Reds are huge favourites to progress on late Sunday afternoon. They are currently top of the Premier League table and are the European champions too. Their opponents, meanwhile, are 16th in League One.
However, given this is a cup competition, Jurgen Klopp should ring the changes to his side, which will give Shrewsbury the slightest hope of causing an upset. And there is one battle in particular that could help the lower-league side do just that.
Going forward, Shrewsbury have struggled this term. In 26 matches, they have scored just 24 goals – only Bolton, who started the campaign with a 12-point reduction and sit bottom of the third tier, have managed less (19).
However, defensively, they are one of the more solid outfits in the division. Despite their low placing in the table, they have shipped just 28 goals – only seven sides have managed less – and it is their centre-back pairing that has been vital to that record.
Aaron Pierre and Ethan Ebanks-Landell have been arguably their side’s two best performers so far this season. As per WhoScored, they have average match ratings of 7.18 and 7.07 respectively (the highest in the whole team). It’s a statistic that puts them in the top 40 in the entire division. They have also averaged 1.7 tackles each per match this term, and will be key to any potential success this weekend.
This game looks like an important one for Reds signing Takumi Minamino. The 22-cap Japan international, recently signed from RB Salzburg, has only featured in two matches to date, against Everton in the previous round and versus Wolves from the bench on Thursday, so the chance to perform against clearly lesser opposition is something of a test for how he can help a Liverpool side battling on three fronts during the rest of the campaign.
He showed huge potential with the Austrian club, scoring nine goals and providing 11 assists in 22 matches this season, but he did not have the best game as he made his Liverpool bow – he had just one shot and managed zero key passes – and he also failed to net against the Midlands outfit.
While it remains to be seen exactly how Klopp utilises him on Sunday, having played all across the frontline and the midfield throughout his career, the 25-year-old can be a handful in all facets of the attacking game, whether it’s setting players up or trying to score himself, so regardless of position he will want to be a persistent threat to the heart of Shrewsbury’s defence.
In his time in the Champions League this season with Salzburg, Minamino averaged an impressive 2.8 shots, two key passes and 1.5 dribbles per game. And with this likely to be an otherwise inexperienced Liverpool team, it is clear that Pierre and Ebanks-Landell need to always have one eye on keeping Reds’ new signing quiet.
If Minamino can produce the kind of form he showed in his time in Austria, then Shrewsbury will be in for a tough game. But if both Pierre and Ebanks-Landell can stifle him, they will put themselves in a good position to cause an unlikely shock.