Virgil van Dijk’s return gives Jurgen Klopp some big decisions to make with his midfield selection in Sunday’s showdown with Man United.
English football’s fiercest rivalry reignites at Old Trafford with the stakes arguably higher than ever before for the Reds in the Premier League era.
Victory would simply be priceless for Liverpool, and it will take a season’s best performance to get it against a very different United side to the one swatted aside at Anfield in December.
Crucially, the Reds come into the grudge match in better shape and will be closer to full-strength than against Bayern Munich as van Dijk is available.
But the Dutchman’s return brings a real selection dilemma for Klopp in midfield, with several in-form options battling for shirts.
So how could Liverpool’s starting XI look at Old Trafford?
Klopp is boosted by the availability of Van Dijk, who will return to defence after missing the Bayern Munich draw through suspension.
Speaking in his pre-match press conference, the boss confirmed this was the only return with no change on the injury front.
Dejan Lovren (hamstring) is still out, as is Joe Gomez (leg fracture) for the foreseeable future, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Rhian Brewster continue to build towards comebacks.
Van Dijk’s return to centre-back will free up Fabinho and the Brazilian could be restored to his natural midfield position.
Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum and Naby Keita will all be hoping to keep their starting shirts after impressing as a unit against Bayern.
James Milner is also pushing for starting XI recall, giving Klopp a tough midfield selection to make.
Xherdan Shaqiri is unlikely to force into the attack and the likes of Adam Lallana, Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge will continue on the bench.
Liverpool’s Potential XI vs. United
With van Dijk returning and therefore Fabinho freed up, Klopp’s big selection call comes with his midfield.
The rest of the lineup picks itself assuming Klopp will stick with a 4-3-3 system at Old Trafford, which seems almost certain for a heavyweight fixture away from home.
The defence will see Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joel Matip, van Dijk and Andy Robertson protect Alisson, while the traditional front three will lead from the front.
What goes in between those established units is the million-dollar question.
The answer only Klopp knows at this stage, but we could see a selection of Fabinho – who Klopp suggested will return to midfield in his press conference – Henderson and Wijnaldum.
It would mean Keita – somewhat harshly – drops to the bench but this trio would have greater presence for a fixture that is always a battle on enemy territory.
Crucially, Fabinho would operate at No.6 to provide physicality and defensive know-how in a key area to handle the threat of Paul Pogba.
Henderson should start for his experience of this fixture and given he just produced his best display of the season so far, while Wijnaldum is undroppable currently.
If that aforementioned trio doesn’t appeal then it is likely that the alternative will be a central unit of Fabinho, Wijnaldum and Keita.
Though harsh on Henderson this time, this trident arguably stands out as Liverpool’s strongest, most talented and best balanced.
Indeed, this trio shone in their previous league outing together with a top-level performance against Bournemouth – which was also the Reds’ best team display of 2019 so far.
This unit also offers greater goal-threat and creativity, which will suit a front-footed style as Klopp’s side look for what could be a season-defining three points at Old Trafford.
Klopp is facing a tough call with how to shape his midfield for Sunday’s showdown and it will be interesting to see what the German eventually decides to do.
It then comes down to those chosen to rise to the occasion and repay the faith with a whole-hearted performance to earn what would be a priceless three points in the pursuit for title glory.