Liverpool host rivals Man United at Anfield on Sunday as the race for a top four place intensifies. Ben Twelves takes a look at the all-important team selection options ahead of the grudge match.
Brendan Rodgers’ side face arguably their biggest game of the season – a win would see them move into the top four for the first time this season.
A vitally important victory at Swansea on Monday night saw the Reds keep their excellent league form going and the pressure up on those directly ahead with Man City now looming into view, and with just four points now separating the fifth placed Reds from Manuel Pellegrini’s side, Rodgers’ men are well positioned for the final nine-game fight.
[pull_quote_center]It’s an important game. The rivalry is historic. It’s a game at Anfield against a big rival. Psychologically a win would be big boost. – Rodgers[/pull_quote_center]
Despite being nowhere near their best in Wales, Liverpool held firm and battled well to grind out a hugely important three points at the Liberty Stadium, and though winning ugly is a welcome trait at this crucial time of the season, Rodgers’ side will need to produce a vastly improved display against Louis van Gaal’s team who arrive on Merseyside off the back of three straight wins and clean sheets.
Another helpful respite between fixtures for Rodgers and his team means the Reds boss will have a refreshed squad fired up and ready to go on Sunday for what is unquestionably the biggest game of the English footballing calendar.
- Lucas has returned to full training
- Balotelli is back available
- Gerrard fit
There are no new injury concerns ahead of the clash for the Liverpool manager with only Jordon Ibe still sidelined, but after returning to training this week, Lucas Leiva is set to be assessed ahead of the game that could also see the return of Mario Balotelli to match-day involvement after the Italian recovered from illness.
A strong and confident squad is available to the Liverpool manager, and with the Reds in great league form and momentum in their favour, Rodgers has a welcome selection headache with plenty of options to choose from.
One of those choices includes naming an unchanged team for the clash and keeping faith with the side that produced the goods in south Wales last time out, but a game which saw the introduction of Steven Gerrard prove pivotal to claiming another vital three points could persuade Rodgers to play the captain from the start against van Gaal’s men.
With no need to disrupt the fully-functioning midfield partnership of Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen though, Gerrard’s presence could materialise in the final third – if Rodgers decides against keeping the captain in reserve as a game-changing option – with Daniel Sturridge a candidate to swap positions with the 34-year-old following his poor form since returning from injury.
Decisions will have to be made at wing-back too, where Lazar Markovic will be hopeful of a recall, but Rodgers could once again stick with Alberto Moreno and Raheem Sterling to fill the wide spaces, allowing for as many attacking options as possible which will see Gerrard, Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho and Sturridge all vying for the three attacking shirts.
The Liverpool XI
A 13-day break between Sunday’s clash and another important fixture against Arsenal next time out allows for Rodgers to continue picking his strongest team without reservations, and the Reds manager can afford to go all-out as his side look to leapfrog their opponents in the league table.
The Northern Irishman could retain a familiar look to recent fixtures and Monday night by picking the same XI that started at the Liberty Stadium again on Sunday, with little reason to change the team, and that would see the Reds line up like this on Sunday afternoon:
However, Rodgers could decide to make one change to his starting line-up with Gerrard available to play from the beginning, and should the Liverpool boss decide to bring the skipper into the team, it’s likely to come at the expense of Sturridge who has yet to rediscover his usually blistering form since his return to match action.
That would consequently see Sterling move back into the striking role with Lallana filling in at right wing-back, allowing the Captain to share No.10 duties with Coutinho behind the 20-year-old, and those alterations would see the Liverpool team look like this come kick-off time at Anfield:
After months of hard work spent dragging themselves back into top four contention, it’s essential the Reds hold their nerve at Anfield and pick up what would be a confidence boosting win to move them into fourth place with perfect timing ahead of the remaining eight games of the league season.
Pick your XI