Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool return to Premier League action on Saturday afternoon, when they take on Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. Ben Twelves takes a look at the team selection options ahead of the clash.
After a 13 day break since the painful defeat to Man United, Liverpool go in search of bouncing back to winning ways at the first attempt in north London against Arsene Wenger’s Gunners.
The Reds now face a sizeable uphill task to achieve their aim of finishing in the top four as they currently trail United by five points – a gap that could be extended to eight if the worst case scenario of results pan out this weekend – and a huge challenge awaits Rodgers and his young squad over the remaining games of the season.
With the genuine possibility of a further increased gap materialising after this weekend’s round of matches – something that could signal the end of the Champions League battle with only seven games left to play after – Saturday’s fixture represents somewhat of a win-or-bust clash for the Reds with their need to keep pressure up on top four chasing rivals.
Three points is therefore of even more importance to Liverpool, who need to recapture the spirit that dragged them back into contention for a top four finish on Saturday afternoon, but an extremely tough task lies ahead at an unhappy hunting ground against Wenger’s in-form side, who have won nine of their last 10 matches including six successive wins.
Suspensions to Steven Gerrard and Martin Skrtel mean the experienced duo will miss the next three matches, and while Adam Lallana is touch and go for the clash and Rodgers hopes to have the 26-year-old available, the Reds boss been boosted by news that Daniel Sturridge has been passed fit to face the Gunners.
Rodgers confirms that Daniel Sturridge has trained today and should be fine for Arsenal game on Saturday. #LFC
— James Pearce (@JamesPearceLFC) April 2, 2015
The Liverpool manager could still be forced into and opt to make more than one change however – the most pressing of which comes in having to decide between Dejan Lovren and Kolo Toure as to who takes up Skrtel’s central role in the back three.
Another alteration could see Lucas Leiva come back into the starting XI with the Brazilian having made a welcome return from injury, though Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson may be the preferred choice to once again make up the midfield partnership after both returned from international duty unscathed.
The problematic right wing-back position will need to be addressed by Rodgers with it proving a real hindrance to the team currently, and with Jordon Ibe still side-lined, Lallana struggling for form in both positions deployed, and Raheem Sterling completely wasted out wide, Rodgers has a few choices to pick from.
Lazar Markovic, who did an underrated and underappreciated job in filling the unnatural role could be the chosen man to compliment Alberto Moreno on the opposite side making up the four man midfield, though forgotten man Javi Manquillo will also be hopeful of a long overdue recall to the team.
The Reds face a wait over Lallana’s fitness though Sturridge is set to be fit to feature, and the creative midfielder’s potential absence could open a space for Sterling to move back into the Liverpool attack alongside Philippe Coutinho and the man he deputised for earlier this season.
The Line Up
Rodgers will have to eagerly await news of Lallana’s availability – though he is set to train before the trip south – and should good news materialise over the ex-Saint’s fitness like with Sturridge, a strong looking team is set to line up at the Emirates despite the likelihood of changes.
Skrtel’s ban should result in Toure coming in alongside Emre Can and Mamadou Sakho to face his old club with his leadership a valuable asset, however Markovic should come into the side for Lallana to regain his place at right-wing back, allowing for Sterling to move into an explosive front three alongside the Brazilian magician and Sturridge.
Those two changes from the side that started against United last time out would see Liverpool line up like this on Saturday early afternoon:
However, Rodgers could choose to make two slightly different changes to his team.
While Toure should definitely be the pick over Lovren, Lallana could keep his shirt in the attacking three with Allen instead being the man to make way for the returning Lucas, who could recommence his partnership with Henderson and to add some physicality to the middle of the park.
That switch in midfield resulting in Lallana staying in the attack alongside Coutinho and Sturridge would mean Sterling once more operates in an ineffective wide role, but those changes would see the Reds look like this come 12:45 kick-off time:
The Reds face a big challenge to return to winning ways at the first attempt, but with Champions League aspirations already slipping away and the possibility of becoming even more distant, a positive result, though tough, really is a must if the aim of a top four finish is to be kept alive for the final seven games.
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