Jurgen Klopp will once again have to navigate Sadio Mane’s absence as Liverpool host Man United, and the boss has various positive ways to do so.
With a two-week build up completed and anticipation now at boiling point, Anfield hosts English football’s fiercest rivalry as Man United arrive on Merseyside.
The grudge match is ill-timed directly after international disruption, but the break will have provided Klopp’s men time to regroup and rebuild for the first of three huge games in a season-shaping week.
Momentum is certainly not with Liverpool – yet to beat United in the league under Klopp – but it presents an ideal chance to get back on track with a morale-boosting victory.
The Reds will have do it without some key players as Klopp faces the increasingly familiar issue of being without Mane, but thankfully the boss has numerous ways to go about it.
- Klopp confirms no fresh injury concerns meaning strong squad still available
- Mane set to miss first of potentially nine games with hamstring injury
- Adam Lallana “getting stronger” but still unavailable due to thigh problem
- Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino unscathed from internationals, with latter pushing for starting XI recall
- Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain hopeful of first league start and chance to step up in Mane’s absence
- Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren poised to continue at centre-back
- Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold vying for right-back berth
- Likes of Ragnar Klavan, Andy Robertson, James Milner, Daniel Sturridge & Dominic Solanke all available
- Klopp could switch formation as Reds boss seeks best way to get by without Mane
Liverpool’s XI vs. United
Losing Mane at such a vital time is a devastating blow, and all focus at Anfield will be on how Klopp navigates the loss of the Senegalese for such a crucial fixture.
Impressive strength in depth in attack thankfully gives Klopp plenty of options to do so, and ensure Mane’s absence doesn’t prove as derailing as last season.
One way – perhaps the most likely – could see Coutinho return to the left side of attack, where Salah would play from the right and Firmino – fresh after playing only three minutes for Brazil – would return to lead the line.
Switching Coutinho to an advanced role would allow Klopp to field a more solid midfield in attempt to match United’s physicality – even without powerhouses Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini.
In this, Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum and the returning Emre Can would complete a combative and energetic centre for the midfield battle.
The defence almost picks itself with Alberto Moreno – who trained at Melwood throughout the break – likely to be preferred to Robertson on the left of Matip and Lovren.
However, there’s a big decision with who starts at right-back from Alexander-Arnold and Gomez, but the latter should be preferred for his extra height and physicality against United’s powerful attack.
One man who will be desperate to profit from Mane’s unavailability is Oxlade-Chamberlain.
The summer signing will be desperate to finally spark his Reds career to life, and Klopp could view Saturday as the ideal time to hand him his big chance to shine.
Indeed, the boss could introduce Oxlade-Chamberlain straight into Mane’s regular slot on the left of the front three, with the versatile attacker completing a dynamic trio with Salah and Firmino.
A big show of faith in Oxlade-Chamberlain in this attacking position would likely spark a reshuffle in midfield.
And Klopp could take that chance to field a more adventurous centre, especially with United to be without the physical dominance of Pogba and Fellaini.
Therefore, Coutinho could be retained in a deeper position to offer creativity against an obstructive United side, with Henderson and Can acting as the Brazilian’s bodyguards.
Keeping the defence the same, these switches would see the Reds look like this:
However, Mane’s injury at the back end of last season prompted Klopp to change not only personnel but also formation at certain times of the run-in.
The boss utilised a 4-4-2 diamond system on occasion which worked brilliantly at times – most notably in the 4-0 thrashing of West Ham which kept Champions League hopes on track.
It’s something Klopp could revisit, especially with the way the formation would suit his players, while also potentially helping restore cutting edge in attack and solidifying defensively.
The big question within this would be on who forms the strike partnership.
But Sturridge’s poor form and Solanke’s inexperience should see Firmino’s craft complemented by Salah’s speed, with the ‘King of Egypt’ having regularly played centrally at Roma.
There are plenty of options to fill the midfield quartet.
But Henderson as the anchor, Can and Oxlade-Chamberlain in box-to-box roles and Coutinho at the tip would provide a hard-working, dynamic and creative centre to take the game to Jose Mourinho’s side.
Keeping the same back four again seems likely, but Alexander-Arnold could be preferred in such a set-up to provide attacking intent in wide areas.
These changes to personnel and system would see the Reds boast this exciting lineup:
Saturday’s grudge match kicks-off a make-or-break eight days, and victory at Anfield is much-needed to spark an upturn in form and to get the campaign properly up and running.