Milner’s right-back return creates tough midfield decisions – Predicting Liverpool’s lineup vs. West Ham

3 February 2019

With James Milner set to return at right-back against West Ham on Monday night, Jurgen Klopp has system and personnel changes to consider in midfield.


After a rare frustrating outing at Anfield it is now all about how the Reds respond with a return to winning ways required at London Stadium.

Liverpool can ill-afford to provide Man City with any further encouragement, and a much-improved display from the draw with Leicester will be needed.

Klopp could make changes in attempt to ensure the sweet taste of victory returns in east London, and the boss has interesting decisions to make with both system and personnel.

The midfield once again presents the biggest headache as a result of Milner’s impending return to his role deputising at right-back.

So how could Liverpool’s starting lineup look against West Ham?

 

Team News

Defensive options will be in short supply once again with three Reds set to be missing.

The real bad news is that Joe Gomez is facing an even longer spell out, with the centre-back now likely requiring surgery on his broken leg.

Dejan Lovren has suffered a recurrence of his problematic hamstring injury and is set to be ruled out of Monday’s trip to the capital.

And Trent Alexander-Arnold is not yet ready to return despite stepping up his recovery, with a comeback to training targeted for next week.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Rhian Brewster also remain out despite progress in their respective recoveries.

PARIS, FRANCE - Wednesday, November 28, 2018: Liverpool's captain James Milner celebrates scoring the first goal during the UEFA Champions League Group C match between Paris Saint-Germain and Liverpool FC at Parc des Princes. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Klopp is at least handed one boost as Milner is available again after serving a one-match ban against Leicester.

The vice-captain’s return at right-back could see Jordan Henderson restored to midfield, where Fabinho is also pushing for a start.

Klopp is likely to keep changes to a minimum with the current manageable fixture schedule allowing the Reds to operate at full-strength consistently.

 

The Potential Lineups

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, January 30, 2019: Liverpool's captain Jordan Henderson appeals for a penalty during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Leicester City FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It’s likely we will see a couple of switches made with the availability of returning options allowing Liverpool to move to a stronger lineup again.

Milner is certain to slot back in at right-back to complete the defence and his presence opens a midfield dilemma for Klopp.

Fabinho, not deemed fit enough to start against Leicester, should be fully recovered for this game and it would be no surprise to see the Brazilian back in midfield.

The big question then comes in who joins the No. 3, and Gini Wijnaldum could get the nod over Henderson with the chance to rebuild what has proven the strongest midfield pairing.

That leaves just one final headache for Klopp in who to deploy with the first-choice trio out of Naby Keita and Xherdan Shaqiri, and it’s a tough call with both players not in top form.

But the more conservative Guinean could be viewed as a safer option on the left flank away from home, while Keita’s excellent display in the reverse fixture on the opening day could come into Klopp’s thinking.

Alisson; Milner, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Wijnaldum; Mane, Firmino, Keita; Salah


For a tricky away game Klopp could adjust to a 4-3-3, setting up with a more compact and energetic midfield to supplement a greater counter-attacking threat.

The formation switch would see the same back four start but a midfield reshuffle arrive, and it could see both Keita and Shaqiri drop out of the starting XI.

Indeed, it’s more likely that we see Henderson restored to his natural position in midfield alongside Fabinho and Wijnaldum.

While Henderson would usually operate as No. 6, Fabinho should play there instead with the captain moved to a box-to-box role as this is more suitable for both players.

It would then be Wijnaldum who operates as the more advanced midfielder of the trio, supporting the front three which picks itself.

Alisson; Milner, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Salah, Mane, Firmino


It remains to be seen how Klopp decides to set his stall out at the London Stadium as Liverpool look to make an immediate return to winning ways.

One thing for sure is that both lineups should be strong enough to ensure that happens and that the strong five-point cushion is maintained.

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