Jurgen Klopp‘s first home game as Liverpool manager takes place against Rubin Kazan on Thursday, but how strong should the German’s team be?
Never has a Europa League match felt so appealing.
When Liverpool host Rubin Kazan on Thursday evening, Anfield will be filled with a new sense of optimism – a vast difference to the last Europa League match against FC Sion that saw an attendance of 37,252.
Klopp’s first home game has been eagerly-anticipated ever since he became manager on 8th October, and his walk from the tunnel to the dug-out is sure to be a memorable moment.
Away from all the off-pitch coverage surrounding his maiden Anfield match, however, Klopp has a tricky decision to make in terms of team selection.
The Europa League has been something of a burden to a string of former Reds bosses in that respect, whether it be Brendan Rodgers, Kenny Dalglish or Rafa Benitez. Now it’s Klopp’s turn.
We take a look at the pros and cons of fielding a full strength side.
If Klopp were to play his strongest XI, or close to it, there would certainly be some potential benefits to be had.
Namely it would provide him with a good environment to further implement his desired tactical requirements in a competitive match.
It would allow for players to get a further understanding of what the manager wants, and give Klopp more of a picture of where the team needs to improve.
Having not had a pre-season to work on fitness levels required for Klopp’s pressing game, you could say that the best way to build fitness is to play games. The Reds pressed well for 30 minutes against Spurs, perhaps 40 minutes here would be beneficial and build towards bigger, more important games.
It would be easy for Klopp to get lost in the short-term and field all of his key men in front of an expectant Anfield, but this would be an enormous risk, especially with this being the first of six games in 17 days and with an already depleted squad.
Liverpool’s upcoming run of Premier League games is too tough to justify playing a strong side in a competition that arguably is of lower importance.
The Thursday-Sunday issue that the Europa League throws up has been problematic for almost every English team in recent years, and there is every chance that it will be no different for the Reds under Klopp.
With Southampton awaiting on Sunday afternoon, the German simply has to play the long game and rest a number of important faces, or risk dropping more points in the league.
The Saints have already exited the competition, and Ronald Koeman’s athletic, fluent side will be confident of causing Liverpool real problems should they play the same team twice in the space of three days.
The Reds may be decimated by injury at the moment, but there is still enough quality in their ranks to overcome a relatively average Rubin Kazan side.
It’s worth reiterating that the 48-year-old is very limited in terms of how many changes he can make from the side that drew at Tottenham on Saturday.
Jordan Henderson, Danny Ings, Joe Gomez, Jon Flanagan and Jordan Rossiter are all out for the foreseeable future- some longer than others- while Daniel Sturridge, Christian Benteke and Roberto Firmino are all doubtful for Thursday.
Jose Enrique is not registered in Liverpool’s 21-man European squad, nor is midfielder Joao Carlos Teixeira, although youngsters such as Cameron Brannagan and Pedro Chirivella are available should Klopp decide to promote youth.
Despite this obvious lack of depth currently, Klopp can still call upon a number of familiar faces to step up to the plate against Rubin Kazan.
Dejan Lovren and Kolo Toure have enough experience to come in and do a job in place of Mamadou Sakho and Martin Skrtel, while Joe Allen and Jordon Ibe could easily replace Lucas Leiva and Philippe Coutinho or James Milner.
Full-backs Nathaniel Clyne and Alberto Moreno will simply have to play both matches, with no cover available following Gomez’s injury. Youngster Connor Randall could perhaps get his debut from the bench.
As long as there is enough freshness brought into the side, Sunday’s showdown with the Saints should not be an issue.
Some may feel that playing a strong team on Thursday can act as a great momentum boost, but win, lose or draw, the result is unlikely to impact that much on Liverpool’s Premier League campaign.
The temptation is understandably there for Klopp to go gung-ho and play his best available team- it is imperative that the Reds win- but he is intelligent enough to realise the potential consequences of doing this.
It is far from an ideal situation for the German, and the constant flow of injuries has made his team selection for the two upcoming games very tricky.
There is just about enough depth for Klopp to make four or five changes to his personnel though, with several key men still involved in proceedings.
A strong side can be fielded on Thursday and a first Europa League win would be welcome to ensure the Reds eventually progress from the group.
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