Jurgen Klopp has suggested he could “get creative” with his centre-back pairing against Wolves to avoid overusing the duo of Dejan Lovren and Virgil van Dijk.
Liverpool have largely utilised the same selection of 14 or so players across the Christmas and New Year period, meaning the boss will look to make changes for the FA Cup third round at Wolves on Monday night.
One area of the team where he has limited options, however, comes at centre-back, where Joel Matip (collarbone) and Joe Gomez (leg fracture) have been sidelined through injury of late.
Both are on schedule for their recoveries later this month, but are not yet in full team training—despite Klopp providing a positive update on them to reporters.
The manager admitted he’ll have to think outside the box if he doesn’t want to continue with the same pairing, giving them a break before the next run of Premier League matches.
“We need to be creative! Or we play the two [Virgil van Dijk and Dejan Lovren] again.
“If not, we have to be creative—we’ll see what we do. We won’t sign a centre-half for one game!”
One option is to play Fabinho at centre-back to rest at least one of the regular duo.
But the option to rotate his centre-halves will return later this month when Gomez and Matip return, with Klopp saying: “Joe and Joel look good, obviously not good enough for tomorrow or the game after that, hopefully then for Brighton.”
Further forward, the Reds are likely to make significant changes in midfield to rotate, give minutes to those who have been sub recently and keep involvement high for the squad players.
Adam Lallana has made a few sub appearances of late, Jordan Henderson has won himself a spot back in the lineup and James Milner has recovered from injury—but Naby Keita has been left on the bench unused for the past three league matches.
The No. 8 has yet to hit top gear for the Reds, but Klopp intimated—without outright confirming he’d start—the midfielder is likely to see another opportunity come in the FA Cup.
“It’s pretty clear if we make changes who will come in. That’s how it sometimes is [that Keita hasn’t featured of late].
“Everything is fine, I’m completely happy with Naby. Could he be a bit more confident in the games? Yes. Is he exactly the player in his best time at Leipzig? No. He’s still adapting, that’s how it is.
“But everybody saw not only at the beginning of the season, how brilliant he played in the first part. Tottenham was a fantastic game for him.
“We made a little [tactical] change and the boys have to deal with it. A little injury here and there and a little setback, but he’s a fantastic player and I’m really happy to have him here.
“I’m really looking forward to our common future because you see every day: wow, there’s so much to come, so much influence he can have on each game.
“Just because other boys were in good shape as well, a bit about positioning, a bit about [the] system and all that stuff—no doubts about the boy, an outstanding player.”
While Keita is expected by the majority of fans to go on and play an increasingly bigger role as time goes on, the same can’t necessarily be said of Lallana.
Versatile, aggressive and a favourite of Klopp’s previously, there’s no getting away from the fact that most don’t see him as a like-for-like switch in the fast-paced attacking line.
Still, the boss believes Lallana has a huge role to play going forward and he’s another probable starter against Wolves as he looks to gain full match fitness.
“Adam is actually in an outstanding shape. In training it was close, do we start him or not.
“Adam is a player who always wants to, he’d play four games a day if he could. He’s in the best moment since I know him.
“He will have a big part of our season, I’m really sure.”
The chances for these players to get more action could well rely on further FA Cup matches, so the best outcome for all concerned is a win on Monday night.
A restored winning feeling, remaining in the hunt for another trophy and further game time assured for the squad members would represent a fantastic and immediate return to form for the Reds.