Takumi Minamino and Divock Origi continued their EFL Cup love affairs as Liverpool edged past Preston North End 2-0 at Deepdale on Wednesday. 

Japan international Minamino made it five goals in four EFL Cup appearances before Origi scored for the 11th time in his 10th start in the competition with an impressively improvised backheel volley. 

Having been fortunate not to go behind in the first half when Sean Maguire, Ryan Ledson and Brad Potts failed to take their chances, Minamino made the breakthrough for Liverpool in the 62nd minute. 

The Premier League giants dominated possession throughout and were sure of a place in the quarter-finals for just the second time in five seasons after Origi somehow flicked the ball home with six minutes remaining. 

Preston initially looked more dangerous despite seeing less of the ball and ought to have taken the lead in the 28th minute when they had three chances in rapid succession. 

Adrian did brilliantly to deny Maguire from six yards after Joe Gomez was dispossessed, and Neco Williams' goal-line clearance kept Ledson out on the follow-up. The rebound fell to Potts, but he sliced his attempt high and wide.  

After wasting a chance at the start of the second half, there was no mistake from Minamino with his next opportunity as he stabbed in a cutback from Williams after a brilliant pass from Tyler Morton released the right-back.  

Kostas Tsimikas then rattled the crossbar with a deep cross and the ball fell to Williams, whose blocked shot sat up nicely for Origi to steer in a spectacular late second. 
 

What does it mean? Differing displays for full debutants  

Klopp handed a first senior appearance to Harvey Blair and a full debut to Morton as he made 11 changes from the 5-0 mauling of Manchester United in the Premier League at the weekend.  

Blair was extremely quiet in the front three, getting just nine touches of the ball before making way for Conor Bradley in the 55th minute.  

Morton, meanwhile, looked at home in the centre of midfield, spraying some lovely passes around – one of which was key to Minamino's goal. 

Wonderful Williams 

Making his first start since March having struggled with an ankle injury, Williams proved a difference-maker for the Reds. He made a crucial goal-line block in the first half and played a pivotal role in both Liverpool goals, though he was unable to take a late chance to get on the scoresheet himself. 

Mixed bag for Van den Berg 

Sepp van den Berg may be on loan at Preston from Liverpool, but he started in defence for the hosts and had a mixed outing. He gained possession 10 times, made four interceptions and two blocks – all of which were the most by a Preston player – but no other outfield team-mate gave the ball away more than him (13). 

What's next?  

Liverpool host Brighton and Hove Albion in the Premier League on Saturday, with Preston entertaining Luton Town in the Championship on the same day. 

Liverpool assistant head coach Pep Lijnders has described Liverpool's attackers as being "like raptors from Jurassic Park" after the 5-0 hammering of Manchester United.

The Reds have been potent this season, their tally of 41 goals in all competitions bettered only by Bayern Munich (60) among teams from Europe's top five leagues.

Mohamed Salah has been responsible for 15 of those goals, making him the second-highest goalscorer among Europe's elite this season behind Robert Lewandowski (17).

Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino have six each, while, and Diogo Jota – who scored against United on Sunday – has four to his name.

Each of Liverpool's forwards have been in fantastic form and Lijnders puts that down to Jurgen Klopp's men going back to basics.

"I think it has to do with the way we are playing," he said during a news conference on Tuesday previewing the midweek EFL Cup last-16 tie with Preston North End. 

"It's the whole package that means our front players get into good positions. The front three look like raptors in Jurassic Park! 

"We haven't changed anything. Sometimes improving is going back to basics. Players needed a break after a few intense and emotional seasons."

With his hat-trick at Old Trafford, Salah has now scored in a club-record 10 successive matches for Liverpool in all competitions.

The Egypt international, who surpassed Didier Drogba (104) as the highest-scoring African in Premier League history with 106 goals, is expected to be rested against Preston.

Takumi Minamino scored twice and Divock Origi was on target as Liverpool swept aside Norwich City 3-0 in the last round and both players are in line to start again at Deepdale on Wednesday.

"We are used to making changes," Lijnders said. "We have to do things the right way by training and recovering correctly. 

"That's what I like about us – we prepare at the same level no matter who the opponent. We have to show our fans that same hunger and desire.

"Origi is the top scorer in this competition. He is a world-class finisher and is looking sharp, as is Minamino. Last season went to show that we need all of our players.

"They all have to show the right mentality and be ready. They have to stay patient and keep training hard."

Lijnders confirmed James Milner will miss Liverpool's next four matches ahead of the international break with a hamstring injury sustained in the win at Old Trafford.

Naby Keita also came off in that game following a strong challenge from Paul Pogba, who was shown a red card, but Liverpool's assistant was able to provide a more positive update on the midfielder.

"Naby has a bruise in this moment, which we are assessing day by day," Lijnders said.

"Thankfully his leg wasn't planted, but it's still a painful one. It's looking good. Fabinho will also be monitored daily and may return next weekend."

Liverpool travel to Preston aiming to keep alive their good record against lower-league opposition in the EFL Cup, having progressed from 16 of their past 17 such ties.

"Our priority is to put on a good display," Lijnders added. "That is the case from the start of the season until the end.

"Our game needs freshness and we want the opponents to feel our attack. The only way we will be able to properly press is to rotate.

"We are taking it game by game and are hoping to maintain our consistency."

Manchester United have postponed their friendly against Preston North End on Saturday due to a small number of suspected coronavirus cases in the squad.

United on Thursday announced that the unnamed players are isolating pending further tests.

A statement on the club's official website said: "Following routine testing of the first-team training group today, we have identified a small number of suspected positive cases.

"This has led to those people isolating, pending further tests.

"As a precautionary measure based on COVID protocols, we have taken the difficult decision that we will not now be able to play the friendly match against Preston North End this Saturday."

The Red Devils were held to a 2-2 draw by Premier League newcomers Brentford on Wednesday, with Anthony Elanga and Andreas Pereira on the scoresheet.

United manager Ole Gunnar Solskajer has expressed his gratitude for the backing he has been given in the transfer market, with Jadon Sancho arriving and Raphael Varane poised to complete his move to Old Trafford.

France centre-back Varane's arrival appears to be imminent, with a deal agreed in principle for a reported £42.7 million fee to secure the Real Madrid man.

Solskjaer's side are due to face Everton in their final pre-season friendly on August 7 and get their Premier League campaign under way a week later against Leeds United.

Manchester City's pre-season preparations suffered a double blow on Wednesday as a friendly against Troyes was cancelled due to a change in quarantine rules and another fixture against Preston North End will now take place behind closed doors. 

City's plans of playing in France have been scrapped after the UK government announced that anybody arriving from the country must quarantine for a 10-day period. 

A City statement on the club's official website said: "Both clubs explored all avenues to be able to play the game, but the recent UK government changes to quarantine rules for travellers returning from France, has made the required restrictions too difficult to overcome.

"Pep Guardiola's first-team squad will remain in Manchester and continue their pre-season preparations at the City Football Academy. There are no plans to replace the [Troyes] friendly with another pre-season fixture."

That leaves the Premier League champions with just the sole friendly against Preston before they challenge Leicester City in the Community Shield on August 7.

And no supporters will be present for the game against Preston next Tuesday, with coronavirus-enforced closures to the academy building at City due to end on Monday and the close proximity to the match prompting the club to take a "precautionary approach". 

 

Manchester City took another big step towards the Premier League title as they thrashed Liverpool 4-1 on Sunday, a record-equalling 14th straight victory in all competitions.

Only Preston North End, whose run ended in January 1892, and Arsenal in 1987 have ever achieved such a sequence of wins while in England's top flight.

City can now set a new benchmark against Swansea in the FA Cup on Wednesday.

They have moved five points clear of second-placed Manchester United with a game in hand at the top of the Premier League, while Liverpool are back in fourth, 10 points off the pace.

Defending champions Liverpool were undefeated in 68 consecutive home league matches before hosting Burnley last month but have now lost three in a row at Anfield for the first time since September 1963, also being beaten by Brighton and Hove Albion prior to this fixture.

Chelsea, in March 1956, were the previous reigning champions to endure a three-game losing stretch at home in the top flight.

Liverpool at least ended a 410-minute home league goal drought with Mohamed Salah's penalty, cancelling out Ilkay Gundogan's opener.

The Reds avoided going four league matches at Anfield without scoring for the first time in their history, having drawn a blank in a draw with United prior to this losing run, but it counted for little in the end.

Gundogan preyed on an Alisson error for his second, before the Liverpool goalkeeper again ceded possession for Raheem Sterling to net his 100th goal under Pep Guardiola.

Alisson became the first Liverpool goalkeeper to make two errors leading directly to goals since Loris Karius' desperate showing in the 2017-18 Champions League final.

There was still time, too, for Phil Foden to add a spectacular fourth and cap City's first away win in this fixture since May 2003.

Aged 20 years and 255 days old, Foden, who teed up Gundogan's second, became the youngest player to score and assist in a Premier League game against Liverpool at Anfield.

Preston to Liverpool may not be too far to travel in terms of miles, but it has been quite a footballing journey that has seen Ben Davies end up at Anfield. 

The defender completed one of the more unlikely transfers of this mid-season window, or of any other year for that matter, when he signed a long-term contract to join the reigning Premier League champions on deadline day.  

In need of defensive reinforcements with Joel Matip becoming the latest long-term casualty, the Reds turned to a player from the Championship few thought to be on their radar less than 48 hours earlier. Even the player himself admitted it was all a bit surreal, though this was the kind of career opportunity simply too good to turn down.   

So, February 1, 2021, will now always live long in the memory for Davies, who has taken in a few temporary stops along the way to his current destination. The first of those was at York City, where as a talented but raw teenager he was initially set to stay for a month but ended up sticking around for an entire season in League Two.  

"He was a skinny kid who came into our changing room and was very, very quiet," former York goalkeeper Michael Ingham told Stats Perform News about that 2013-14 campaign. "I think the difference from when he first came to the end of his spell was night and day. 

"Ben came into a good changing room, one with a lot of characters. He was the butt of a couple of jokes but just grew and grew. That's what parent clubs try to do, to get their young players out on loan so they can grow up a bit. He definitely did that. 

"When he was with us, you'd have thought he was a left-back all day long. He's obviously grown into his body and developed that aggressive side to his game, something which you need to play at centre-half."

It was far from easy going in the first half of that campaign: York went into 2014 sitting outside the relegation zone only on goal difference. However, a January recruitment drive by boss Nigel Worthington changed everything. The Minstermen lost just twice in their remaining league games, going from serious candidates to drop through the trapdoor and out of the Football League to unexpected challengers for promotion.  

Davies was a mainstay in the team, making 47 appearances in all competitions. The last of them was in a 0-0 draw in the second leg of the play-off semi-final against Fleetwood, a result that ended hopes of going up. There was no promotion to celebrate, but the campaign had undoubtedly been a huge success for him personally. 

Worthington had also produced another transfer masterstroke in getting Nick Pope to York in from Charlton Athletic for the second half of the campaign.  

"I'd picked up a groin strain and had said I’d need to come out, but there was no room in the budget for someone to come in at that stage," Ingham recalls.  

"I played and I played until it eventually went, then someone came in on loan before Popey. I got fit again, kept two clean sheets as we won three games on the bounce. Then, on a Monday, I saw this big lad in the changing room and I knew straight away that I was coming out of the team again.  

"He was an unbelievable size and had great attributes. He struggled a little bit with his kicking while with us but was a great shot-stopper and would come out all day long for crosses. He might drop the odd one but would come again the next time. 

"You could see he had great confidence in his ability and was going on to higher things." 

Both Pope – now pushing hard to be considered England's number one - and Davies would go out on loan again elsewhere to gain valuable experience. It could well be that exactly seven years on from playing on the same team as York's promotion bid ended at Fleetwood, they line up as opponents when Burnley host Liverpool at Turf Moor in mid-May.  

Ingham, now playing at a semi-professional level while working as a coach for i2i Football Academy, will watch on if his former team-mates are pitted on opposite sides in the Premier League. He knows only too well the value of loan moves, something that helped him personally in the early stages of his career after moving to Sunderland.

"I had the quick realisation when going there [to Sunderland] that I needed to play games somewhere to get ready for the first team," the former Northern Ireland international explained. "I didn't think reserve team football was good enough for me, so I went out on loan probably twice every year I was there." 

Davies continued to be a loan ranger for several years too, heading out to Tranmere Rovers, Southport, Newport County and Fleetwood before eventually establishing himself the first team at Preston, initially as a full-back before transitioning to the heart of North End's defence.   

He had been a mainstay in the 2020-21 campaign for manager Alex Neil, playing 1,691 minutes with the team conceding 23 goals in his 19 second-tier appearances. Celtic were reportedly interested with his contract winding down - then Liverpool suddenly came calling and his future plans changed overnight.  

While set to line up in the same position his responsibilities will change markedly for Liverpool, where playing centre-back is about more than just heading the ball clear and getting in the way to block shots. You are expected to perform those tasks, of course, but also help build attacks from the back in a possession-based system that gives licence for those defenders positioned next to you on the flanks to roam forwards.  

Davies has averaged 39.7 passes per game for Preston this term, boasting a completion rate of 79 per cent. Against West Ham on Sunday, the centre-back pairing Jordan Henderson and Nathaniel Phillips made 92 and 76 respectively for the Reds. He, along with fellow new addition Ozan Kabak, will have to quickly learn how to play for the ever-demanding Klopp. 

"We play differently to Preston and Schalke so they'll need time but we don't have a lot, so we'll use the time we have in our hands and try our best," the German coach told the media.

After the surreal experience of signing for Liverpool, reality is about to kick in. Still, while no longer that same skinny kid seen at York, that season plying his trade in the fourth tier demonstrated how Davies is capable of adapting.

Liverpool's need for defensive reinforcements was always likely to dominate the headlines on transfer deadline day and so it proved as the Premier League champions made two late signings.

Centre-back Ben Davies arrived from Preston North End, while Liverpool made a further addition to the heart of their backline with the loan signing of Ozan Kabak from Bundesliga strugglers Schalke until the end of the season.

Those signings came on a day that saw Joel Matip ruled out for the rest of the season with an ankle ligament injury. Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez are long-term absentees and Liverpool were forced to play Jordan Henderson and Nathaniel Phillips at centre-back in Sunday's win at West Ham.

Heading for the Anfield exit door is Takumi Minamino, the forward moving to Southampton on a six-month loan deal having only joined Liverpool last January.

It came after Southampton loaned veteran Shane Long to promotion-chasing Championship side Bournemouth.

Bournemouth also sanctioned the departure of Joshua King to Everton for a nominal fee until the end of the season.

There were outgoings at Arsenal as well, with Shkodran Mustafi signing for Schalke on a short-term deal and Joe Willock going on loan to Newcastle United, who let DeAndre Yedlin leave for Galatasaray.

Arsenal also sent Ainsley Maitland-Niles to West Brom on loan.

Turkish giants Galatasaray acquired Gedson Fernandes on a temporary deal from Benfica following an unsuccessful stint at Tottenham.

In Serie A, Parma landed Bayern Munich's teenage forward Joshua Zirkzee in a loan deal that contains the option to sign the 19-year-old permanently.

Atalanta are firmly in contention for a top-four finish in Serie A and bolstered their ranks for that push with the capture of Ukraine midfielder Viktor Kovalenko from Shakhtar Donetsk.

Roma can afford to have hopes of a title challenge and brought in teenage full-back Bryan Reynolds from MLS outfit Dallas on an initial loan deal, with an obligation to buy, to help them.

Frozen out at Juventus, midfielder Sami Khedira is back in the Bundesliga following a switch to Hertha Berlin, but one of European football's most exciting talents is heading to Italy after Udinese signed Jayden Braaf on loan from Manchester City with an option to buy.

Elsewhere, Everton defender Jonjoe Kenny joined Celtic on loan for the rest of the season, Brighton and Hove Albion signed highly rated midfielder Moises Caicedo from Independiente del Valle, West Brom loaned Okay Yokuslu from Celta Vigo and defender Teden Mengi moved from Manchester United to Wayne Rooney's Derby County on a temporary basis.

Jurgen Klopp is excited by Ben Davies' potential following his surprise switch from Preston North End, but concedes the move only happened due to Liverpool's injury problems in the centre of defence. 

Davies joined the Premier League champions on Monday in a long-term deal reportedly worth £1.6million.

The 25-year-old made his Preston debut in January 2013 before spending time on loan at York City, Tranmere Rovers, Southport, Newport County and Fleetwood Town. 

His arrival goes some way to resolving the Reds' issues in the heart of defence. 

Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez are long-term absentees, while converted midfielder Fabinho and Joel Matip are struggling with injuries.

That led to Jordan Henderson and the inexperienced Nat Phillips pairing up at the back for Sunday's 3-1 win over West Ham.

While Klopp admits there is an element of good fortune for Davies that Liverpool came calling, the German does believe he has signed a "quality" player.

"What I like about Ben is it just shows that each situation creates opportunities," the German told Liverpool's official website. 

"I think it's probably clear that in a normal transfer window, without any issues, we would not look at Preston to see if there's a player for us or something like that. It's not really likely. 

"But since we saw him and since our situation got clearer and clearer – the problems we had – when we saw him we got really excited about it and thought: 'Wow.' 

"We see the potential really. We see the quality and we see the potential as well because he's 25 and there's a lot to come for him.

"I love a lot about his play. He's a really good footballer, looks like a proper leader in this Preston team, good in challenges, looks football smart, can play different positions because he played in a back three and a back four and all these things. 

"That makes him really interesting so I'm really looking forward to working with him. I know for him it's an opportunity and I see it exactly the same for us, that it's a really good thing to do."

Premier League champions Liverpool have signed centre-back Ben Davies from Preston North End for a deal reportedly worth £1.6million.

The 25-year-old has signed a long-term contract with Jurgen Klopp's side and could make his debut against Brighton and Hove Albion on Wednesday. 

Davies made his Preston debut in January 2013 before spending time on loan at York City, Tranmere Rovers, Southport, Newport County and Fleetwood Town. 

He cemented his place in the Lilywhites' first team during the 2017-18 campaign, making 35 appearances across all competitions. 

Davies went on to make a further 98 appearances for Alex Neil's side, 19 of which came this season. 

"I'm obviously delighted to be here," he told Liverpool's official website. "It's a huge opportunity.

"Obviously it came as a bit of a surprise when it first came but once you start to get your head around it, the opportunity that is in front of me is incredible. I’d be silly to not make the most of it and learn off the players [at the club].

"I've never actually been to Anfield and I haven't had a look around yet. I haven't actually walked out of the tunnel yet, so I'm looking forward to that. Just to be in this kind of atmosphere is brilliant."

Davies' arrival at Anfield gives Klopp's some much-needed cover in the centre of defence. 

With Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez long-term absentees and Fabinho and Joel Matip struggling with injuries, Jordan Henderson and the inexperienced Nat Phillips were the centre-back pairing for Sunday's 3-1 win over West Ham.

"I want to come in and play games to start with," he added. "I want to get my foot in the door and make myself a Premier League player rather than a Championship player, and then take it from there really.

"I know we've got some top players here and players I can certainly learn from. Once you get your foot in the door then you’re here as well. Hopefully I can take my chance and then move forward with it.

"I'm looking forward to coming in and playing in front of everyone and showing everyone what I can do. I'm sure a lot of fans and people don't know [me], or haven't even seen me play.

"It's definitely an exciting time and I think they'll quite enjoy watching me when I'm playing well."

Premier League champions Liverpool have signed centre-back Ben Davies from Preston North End for a deal reportedly worth £1.6million.

The 25-year-old has signed a long-term contract with Jurgen Klopp's side and could make his debut against Brighton and Hove Albion on Wednesday. 

Davies made his Preston debut in January 2013 before spending time on loan at York City, Tranmere Rovers, Southport, Newport County and Fleetwood Town. 

He cemented his place in the Lilywhites' first team during the 2017-18 campaign, making 35 appearances across all competitions. 

He went on to make a further 98 appearances for Alex Neil's side, 19 of which have come this season. 

Davies' arrival at Anfield gives Klopp's side some much-needed cover in the heart of defence. 

With Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez long-term absentees and Fabinho and Joel Matip struggling with injuries, Jordan Henderson and the inexperienced Nat Phillips were the centre-back pairing for Sunday's 3-1 win over West Ham.

 

Will he stay or will he go?

That is the question regarding Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, who is a reported target for Real Madrid and Liverpool.

If Mbappe opts to call time on his PSG stall, the French champions are still aiming high.

 

TOP STORY – LIFE WITHOUT MBAPPE IN PARIS?

Paris Saint-Germain are more determined than ever to give head coach Mauricio Pochettino a dream forward line amid doubts over Kylian Mabppe's future, according to Le10 Sport.

Mbappe – out of contract in 2022 – has been heavily linked with LaLiga champions Real Madrid and Premier League holders Liverpool.

If Mbappe does not remain in Paris, PSG will step up their pursuit of Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi.

 

ROUND-UP

Massimiliano Allegri has turned down Roma as he waits for Madrid, repots Todofichajes. Zinedine Zidane is under mounting pressure in the Spanish capital, while it is a similar situation for Roma boss Paulo Fonseca.

Manchester City are willing to sign a striker and Messi this offseason, according to The Athletic. With City yet to offer Sergio Aguero a new deal, Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland and Inter pair Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku are reported targets as Pep Guardiola's side also eye soon-to-be free agent Messi.

- Fabrizio Romano says Liverpool have agreed to sign Ben Davies from Preston North End ahead of Monday's deadline day. Jurgen Klopp has been eyeing a defender due to the club's injury crisis.

Dele Alli's proposed switch from Tottenham to PSG is not progressing, reports Romano. Struggling for game time at Spurs, Alli has been keen for a loan move to PSG, but Tottenham are unwilling to sanction a departure as Inter block Christian Eriksen's return.

Leicester City are the frontrunners to sign Arsenal's Ainsley Maitland-Niles, claims The Mirror.

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