Liverpool’s bid to notch their 12th league win of the campaign awaits on Saturday, but could injury force Jurgen Klopp’s hand in defence and attack?
The Reds return to domestic action following the conclusion of the international break, eager to swiftly pick up from exactly where they left off following the 3-1 win over Man City.
That quest sees them make the journey to Selhurst Park to meet a familiar face in Roy Hodgson in what is the first of ten matches before Christmas.
Klopp, however, has a number of injuries to key players to consider with Mohamed Salah and Andy Robertson‘s availability both cast into doubt.
It leaves pivotal decisions to make in both defence and attack ahead of Saturday afternoon’s kickoff.
And here’s a look at how Liverpool could look to lineup for the meeting with Crystal Palace.
A fortuitous run with few injuries to consider has come to an end for Klopp as a number of players were forced to withdraw from international duty.
As abovementioned, both Robertson and Salah pose the greatest question marks after ankle injuries ensured neither turned out for their respective country in November.
The duo have seen their workload managed in recent weeks to ensure they are available for matchday, and the manager remained coy on the Egyptian’s availability as he conceded Friday’s session would be key in his decision making.
“I cannot say 100 percent, Friday is a very important session to judge that,” he told reporters during his pre-match press conference.
“It’s not that [Salah’s ankle has] got worse, but it’s still there. That’s the problem. We have to be sensible.”
Should the manager be forced to make changes, James Milner could deputise for the Scot while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Divock Origi remain as strong options to cover the loss of Salah.
The game, however, will come too soon for Xherdan Shaqiri who returned to full training on Tuesday following two months on the sidelines with a calf injury.
Moreover, Joe Gomez could find himself in contention at the back should he have successfully overcome the knock to the knee which forced his early exit from the England camp, while Virgil van Dijk is expected to start his 13th league game despite withdrawing from international duty due to personal reasons.
Likewise, Jordan Henderson is in line for a return to the fold after struggling to overcome a virus which led to his early withdrawal against Man City prior to his early departure from the Three Lions’ squad.
Fabinho, Gini Wijnaldum and Naby Keita, meanwhile, emerged unscathed from their international exploits and return full of confidence after the latter both found the net while the Brazilian was handed a rare starting berth.
Moreover, there are no concerns over Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino who will be expected to start on Saturday, but the same cannot be said for Joel Matip who remains on the sidelines with a knee injury.
Liverpool’s XI vs. Crystal Palace
Although Klopp suggested in his pre-match press conference that he has “no long-term plan” to combat the season’s most congested period, his claim that the Reds need “to be sensible” over Salah slightly contradicts such notion.
While the Egyptian has been on restricted duty during training since his initial comeback from the injury in order to feature on matchday, the trip to Selhurst Park could be the one where he remains on Merseyside with a view for the bigger picture.
His absence would pave the way for the likes of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Origi to be given the nod and after a total of five goals for club and country in his last seven appearances, the England international could be first in line.
In the middle of the park, the regular faces of Fabinho, Gini Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson are likely to back up their start from the win over Man City with another on Saturday.
Meanwhile, at the back, the contingent of Alisson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Dejan Lovren and Van Dijk are all available for selection and will be aiming to pick up the first clean sheet nine games.
And if Robertson is deemed fit to start he will slot in alongside them, where James Milner will be waiting in the wings should he be required.
Alisson; Trent, Lovren, Van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Wijnaldum, Henderson; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mane, Firmino
However, if the Klopp and Co. opt for caution with the Scot like Salah, then Milner will deputise in his place as options remain limited at left-back, in what would be the 33-year-old’s third Premier League start of the season.
Should Wilfried Zaha pass fit, then Milner will be in for a tough afternoon against a player he has conceded is one of the toughest he has come up against throughout his career.
The regular members of the back-line will slot in alongside him, with the midfield trident of Fabinho, Wijnaldum and Henderson offering further support.
In attack, if Salah is ruled out then Klopp could go down the route of welcoming Origi, who remains on the lookout for his first league goal since the opening game against Norwich, into the fold over Oxlade-Chamberlain.
The Belgian’s introduction is likely to see Mane shifted to the right-flank with Origi occupying the left, while Firmino leads the attack.
Alisson; Trent, Lovren, Van Dijk, Milner; Fabinho, Wijnladum, Henderson; Origi, Mane, Firmino
While the absence of one of Liverpool’s key players in Salah is not ideal, the Reds have enough firepower with either lineup to overcome a Palace outfit who have shipped a total of eight goals in their last four outings.
But with games set to come quick and fast over the coming weeks, the Reds need to prioritise the health of the squad and the second lineup is more than capable of securing all three points while ensuring no risks are taken at a crucial point in the campaign.