Roberto Firmino holds the key to Jurgen Klopp’s selection for Liverpool’s Champions League final showdown against Tottenham in Madrid.
The Reds are just one more win from turning a great season into a truly special one with deserved silverware and a historic sixth European Cup.
Key to achieving that will be having an almost full-strength team, and it appears that will be possible thanks to a huge boost with Firmino set to be available.
The big question is whether the Brazilian will start, as Klopp selects his team with thoughts in mind to fitness, recent form, the tactical plan and the best XI to also counter Spurs’ threat.
Who will be the 11 players chosen to lead Liverpool into the Champions League final?
Klopp has been dealt a big boost with the excellent news that Firmino has recovered from a groin injury and is “completely fine” to play.
But the manager added that he would “keep a few question marks open” regarding his starting lineup.
Unfortunately, it’s not such good news for Naby Keita, who has failed to recover from his adductor injury was not named in the squad that travelled to Madrid.
Keita is the only absentee, meaning a near-full squad is at Klopp’s disposal.
The current first-choice defence of Alisson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joel Matip, Virgil van Dijk and Andy Robertson will be in operation.
The midfield, in keeping with the whole season, presents the only tricky selection area, with four options battling for three shirts.
Gini Wijnaldum is pushing hard for a starting role after his tie-turning brace from the bench against Barcelona.
Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and James Milner will all be desperate to be given the nod from Klopp.
Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah are certain starters in the front line.
Divock Origi presents the primary attacking alternative in Firmino’s potential absence, with Xherdan Shaqiri and Daniel Sturridge other options.
Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren will provide defensive backup.
Klopp can name 12 substitutes in the final, meaning Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will feature on the bench alongside every other non-starter in the 23-man squad.
That includes places for the likes of Alberto Moreno, Adam Lallana and Rhian Brewster, as well as third-choice goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher.
Liverpool Squad Travelling to Madrid
Goalkeepers: Alisson, Mignolet, Kelleher
Defenders: Van Dijk, Matip, Gomez, Lovren, Alexander-Arnold, Robertson, Moreno
Midfielders: Fabinho, Henderson, Wijnaldum, Milner, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lallana
Forwards: Salah, Mane, Firmino, Origi, Shaqiri, Sturridge, Brewster
Liverpool’s XI in Madrid
Klopp’s final selection—sure to be set in the usual 4-3-3 system—ultimately depends on Firmino’s readiness to start.
The Brazilian should be ready—he only missed four games—and it then makes for a pretty straightforward selection as the other 10 spots all pick themselves.
A fit-and-firing Firmino would slot straight back into his central position, flanked by Mane and Salah to the left and right respectively.
It would be harsh for Origi to drop out after his Barcelona heroics, but there is no room for sentiment and the strongest possible XI must be deployed.
The rest of the team thereafter is a relatively simple selection.
Klopp’s first-choice defence will be in place to protect Alisson.
The midfield has a bit more flexibility, with all four options arguably worthy of a place, and one man will feel very unfortunate to miss out.
That could be Milner, with Wijnaldum’s Barcelona brace earning him a place in the engine room alongside Fabinho and Henderson:
Alisson; Trent, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Salah, Mane, Firmino
Firmino may be injury-free and fit again but there could, naturally, be some concern over a possible lack of match sharpness after his spell out.
Not since Liverpool’s 2-0 win at Cardiff in mid-April has the Brazilian started a competitive match.
It’s a lengthy period to go without competitive action and it could therefore be a risk throwing him straight back in.
Hopefully the recent behind-closed-doors friendly with Benfica B has served its purpose to bring the unique striker up to speed.
But if Firmino is not at his maximum, Klopp will have to conduct a restructure, holding the No. 9 back as a game-changer from the bench.
That would be done by keeping in-form Origi alongside Salah and Mane—the Belgian in his natural position where he ended the season delivering goals and decisive moments.
Meanwhile, Klopp could also go with the same midfield that started the Barcelona miracle.
That would see Milner keep his spot with Fabinho and Henderson, leaving Wijnaldum as the go-to impact option once again:
Alisson; Trent, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Henderson, Milner; Salah, Mane, Origi
It has been a superb season, but Liverpool now need one more big effort to cap it off with the silverware deserved to complete a special campaign.