Injury-plagued Liverpool have prepared for their upcoming FA Cup third-round clash with Exeter by exercising their right to recall two more loanees in Tiago Ilori and Kevin Stewart.
With a lengthy injury list that has become worse in the aftermath of a narrow Capital One Cup semi-final first-leg win over Stoke, Jurgen Klopp had already secured the returns of young duo Ryan Kent and Sheyi Ojo.
Kent made 17 appearances during a four-month stint with League One promotion hopefuls Coventry. Fellow winger Ojo, meanwhile, had fallen out of favour somewhat under Kenny Jackett at Wolves and as a result saw his season-long spell at Molineux cut short.
Clearly unhappy with the prospect of Liverpool loanees not being exposed to regular first-team football, and also understandably troubled by his own mounting fitness concerns, Klopp hinted at his pre-match press conference on Thursday (7 January) that further recalls could be possible. That has now become a reality, with the club officially confirming that Ilori and Stewart have been brought back from Aston Villa and Swindon respectively.
For Ilori, who has spent time at Granada and Bordeaux since moving to Anfield from Sporting in September 2013, such a return is likely to come as a blessing. The former Portugal U21 international did not make a single appearance in any competition under Tim Sherwood or successor Remi Garde, despite Villa struggling badly at the foot of the Premier League. Versatile midfielder Stewart featured on seven occasions for Swindon but has not played since early September after suffering a medial ligament injury.
Despite that lack of action, the Liverpool Echo suggest that both players have been registered in time and are set to make their Liverpool debuts against Exeter as part of a much-changed line-up. Whether that is as starts or substitutes remains to be seen, although Ilori seems likely to feature from the off with fellow centre-backs Martin Skrtel, Mamadou Sakho, Dejan Lovren and Kolo Toure all sidelined.
Striker Daniel Sturridge remains out after being dealt another setback in his recovery from a hamstring strain, while captain Jordan Henderson is suffering from a recurring heel problem. Philippe Coutinho is expected to be out until February after limping off in the first half against Stoke and match-winner Jordon Ibe was added to the list of casualties.
Divock Origi and Jordan Rossiter have also been struggling with hamstring trouble and Jon Flanagan is not yet ready to feature for the senior team as he builds his match fitness with the U21s following a 19-month injury nightmare. Summer signings Danny Ings and Joe Gomez remain Liverpool's only long-term absentees.
With Klopp likely to rest most of his available senior players to safeguard against further injury trouble amid a relentless run of fixtures, that includes consecutive league meetings against Arsenal and Manchester United, Liverpool's starting XI is likely to have a very youthful feel at St James Park. Brad Smith, Connor Randall, Joao Teixeira and Cameron Brannagan are among the other youngsters that could be handed a starting berth.