Injuries to two key midfielders are likely to prompt Jurgen Klopp into a fielding an interesting lineup as Liverpool take on Red Star Belgrade on Wednesday.
Two games into the new Champions League campaign, and the Reds have suffered contrasting fortunes, with a win and a loss leaving them second in Group C.
Their next two outings are, on paper at least, less demanding than those clashes with Paris Saint-Germain and Napoli, but Red Star are certainly not to be underestimated.
The manager said as much in his pre-match press conference, highlighting their organisation and drive as key attributes, explaining that “we need to fight for each little square metre of space with all we have.”
Klopp’s selection will, in part, be dictated by absences, but also the prospect of giving some players valuable minutes as his rotational approach sets in.
So how could Liverpool line up against Red Star at Anfield?
Speaking at Anfield on Tuesday afternoon, Klopp confirmed that both Jordan Henderson and Naby Keita would miss out, with the captain also sidelined for the weekend.
They join Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Rhian Brewster on the treatment table, while the Reds are also contending with some minor injury issues.
Gini Wijnaldum and James Milner both took knocks in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Huddersfield, while Klopp expressed concerns over Xherdan Shaqiri and Daniel Sturridge.
Adam Lallana was also withdrawn in that victory due to cramp, as he made his first start of the season in a demanding role, revealing after the game that he had doubts over his body during a long spell out.
One player who is almost certain to start is Trent Alexander-Arnold, with the 20-year-old benched for the last two games, while Sadio Mane is now back fit.
Roberto Firmino came off the substitutes’ bench at the weekend, and should also return to his role leading the line.
Klopp’s Options vs. Red Star
Despite Red Star’s lack of experience in the European Cup in recent decades, Liverpool cannot afford to take the challenge lightly.
As such, it is unlikely Klopp will make too many changes, and could even name his strongest possible side with Cardiff City to visit Anfield four days later.
Alisson is guaranteed to start in goal, with Alexander-Arnold at right-back and Andy Robertson at left-back—though it can be argued the Scot could benefit from a rest.
At centre-back, Joe Gomez should shift across to replace Dejan Lovren and resume his partnership with Virgil van Dijk.
The big talking point on Wednesday comes in midfield, and for Fabinho, a day after his 25th birthday, this could present his best opportunity yet.
The Brazilian has been starved of game time since joining from Monaco, but impressed on his Premier League debut in the second half against Huddersfield, and deserves a start this time out.
With Fabinho shielding the back four, Wijnaldum and Milner can provided support for the attacking trio of Mane, Firmino and Mohamed Salah, fresh off his first goal in five games:
Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Wijnaldum, Milner; Salah, Mane, Firmino
With question marks over the fitness of both Milner and Wijnaldum, however, it could be that Klopp opts to leave one on the bench.
Given Wijnaldum only played a half at the weekend and Milner was withdrawn after 77 minutes, it is likely the Dutchman would be preferred, particularly as the vice-captain only just made his comeback.
If Klopp is forced to leave one out, he may be required to hand Shaqiri his second start in as many games, giving Salah, Mane and Firmino top-level ammunition in his advanced role.
At the back, the manager’s recent rotation at right-back could continue with Alexander-Arnold taking over from Gomez with Lovren preferred alongside Van Dijk.
This would follow the trend set in the opening months of last season, as with Lovren back fit after a stomach issue, Klopp has a variety of options:
Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, Van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Wijnaldum, Shaqiri; Salah, Mane, Firmino
Either of these sides should be strong enough to overcome Red Star, especially as they are without support, with their fans banned from Anfield for the night.
They also highlight, despite injuries to Henderson, Keita and Oxlade-Chamberlain, that Klopp still has a much stronger side this season—with the likes of Lallana and Sturridge available in reserve.