There are awkward assignments at lower-league opposition and then there are exhibitions. Liverpool turned their trip to Lincoln into the latter with a procession of exquisite finishes that will bring Arsenal to Anfield in both the Premier League and Carabao Cup next week.
The gifted Curtis Jones and industrious Takumi Minamino both scored twice as Liverpool eased into round four and what will be a third meeting of the season with Mikel Arteta’s team.
Lincoln had made an excellent start to their campaign with four wins and a draw but the gulf between League One and even a makeshift Liverpool team was immediately apparent.
Lincoln trailed to two outstanding finishes before constructing a attack of their own. Jürgen Klopp’s collection of experienced youngsters, an inexperienced youngster, a new signing, seasoned squad players and Virgil van Dijk were so dominant they used the cup tie for shooting practice.
Xherdan Shaqiri auditioned first with a stunning free-kick after a foul on Jones. The intent was clear as the Switzerland international sized up the set-piece near the corner of the area but Alex Palmer was powerless to stop it flying into the top corner off the underside of the bar.
Shaqiri, making only his second Liverpool appearance since January following injury, struck the ball with such power and accuracy that the Lincoln wall and goalkeeper were rendered irrelevant. The exhibition was underway.
Van Dijk’s surprise inclusion was due to a shortage of central defensive options, Klopp explained. But there was method in the thinking. Alongside him stood the 19-year-old Rhys Williams, who spent last season on loan at Kidderminster Harriers. There could be no better guide for Williams’s debut and neither was overworked on the night. Van Dijk was replaced by Fabinho at the interval without breaking sweat.
Liverpool were gifted the second by Lewis Montsma, the Dutch model/Lincoln defender who miscued a clearance that eventually fell to Minamino who swept a delightful shot around Palmer from 20 yards.
Lincoln’s first attempt on goal arrived with the tie already beyond them, Adrián tipping away James Jones’ angled shot.
The other Jones on display, Curtis, showed them how to really finish. Divock Origi headed Williams’s raking ball into the path of the Liverpool midfielder, who stepped inside Harry Anderson before curling another unstoppable shot inside Palmer’s left-hand corner.
Minutes later he repeated the trick, collecting Elliott’s pass and gliding away from Jorge Grant before sending a similar effort past the Lincoln keeper via the aid of a deflection. The second half brought little respite for the hosts. Only 20 seconds had elapsed when the Liverpool press broke Lincoln’s attempt to play out from the back. Palmer saved at the feet of Elliott as he raced through to score but the rebound looped up for Minamino to roll in his second of the game.
It was to Lincoln’s credit that being routed 5-0 at home sparked a reaction and not a deeper collapse. Adrián saved at close range from Anthony Scully and Eyoma sliced horribly wide with only the goalkeeper to beat from Grant’s free-kick.
Tayo Edun grabbed the first goal of Lincoln’s reply when he received Scully’s cross inside the area and placed a cool finish inside the bottom corner. Liverpool quickly restored their five-goal advantage when a cross by new signing Diogo Jota was cleared into the path of Marko Grujic.
The Serbia midfielder, who has spent the past two seasons on loan at Hertha Berlin, drove a shot home through a crowded area although Palmer should have done better.
Montsma headed home a second for Lincoln when Adrián completely missed Grant’s corner to the back post and the defender towered above Fabinho to score off the underside of the bar.
Origi completed the scoring in the final minute with a powerful drive after Minamino had led a rapid counterattack.