Jurgen Klopp will field a trophy-winning side for Liverpool’s Club World Cup final clash with Flamengo, but may still have an eye on Boxing Day.
The Reds are one game away from another trophy, and the title of world champions, as they take on Copa Libertadores winners Flamengo in Doha.
Having overcome Monterrey with a stoppage-time goal from Roberto Firmino in the semi-finals, this promises to be a tough clash, against a side that could include Rafinha, Filipe Luis, Diego, Bruno Henrique and Gabigol.
After the Club World Cup, Klopp’s squad will head straight back to Merseyside where attentions will turn back to the Premier League, with a trip to Leicester to come on Boxing Day.
There is a considerable gap to recover between these two games, but those short of fitness could be rested in Qatar, in order to ensure longer-term success.
Here’s how Liverpool could shape up in the final.
The Dutchman was back with the squad on Friday morning, and the Athletic’s James Pearce reports he “came through training fine and [is] expected to start” in the final.
Absent, however, was Gini Wijnaldum, with Klopp explaining that the midfielder “had a session,” but this suggests that this was part of his rehabilitation from a suspected hamstring injury.
The manager did reveal that he had “no new injury concerns,” which is a major positive.
In fact, Liverpool’s numbers are increased by the arrival of Sepp van den Berg, Ki-Jana Hoever and Harvey Elliott following their involvement in the League Cup quarter-final at Aston Villa on Tuesday night.
They are all eligible to feature, and could bolster the substitute ranks, though despite travelling Caoimhin Kelleher is not registered to take part.
Boxing Day Plans
Kicking off at the same time as the Club World Cup final, the Reds’ next opponents in the league, Leicester, head to Man City.
Leicester are currently second in the table, 10 points behind Liverpool, while City are third, 14 points adrift of the leaders but only four behind Brendan Rodgers’ side.
The result of that contest will be of significant interest to Klopp and his squad, with a draw perhaps the best outcome as it would allow them to extend the gap further on Boxing Day.
While Klopp told reporters on Friday that the final is “the most important [game] in the moment,” his selection in Qatar could be influenced by the title race.
This is particularly the case when considered Wijnaldum’s fitness, as though his injury is not as bad as initially feared, rushing him back to play Flamengo could risk long-term damage.
Adam Lallana, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all played the full 90 minutes against Monterrey, and it would be a gamble to start any for a second game in a row, which does present a selection issue if Wijnaldum is left out.
But there remain options—including the academy quintet of Van den Berg, Hoever, Elliott, Neco Williams and Curtis Jones—to reshuffle the squad to both give Liverpool the best chance of becoming world champions and keeping their title tilt on course.
Liverpool’s Starting XI vs. Flamengo
Much of Klopp’s plans will rest on whether Van Dijk is fit to start or not, but given he was only out due to illness and underwent media duties throughout the week this is likely.
His return would solve a number of problems, particularly in terms of omitting Wijnaldum, as this would allow Jordan Henderson to return to the midfield.
Along with Van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold can be expected to take a place in the defence having come off the bench to set up the winner in the semi-final, with the pair joining Joe Gomez and Andy Robertson in front of Alisson.
With Henderson then restored to the No. 6 role, Klopp could shift James Milner back into the three-man unit, having come off with 16 minutes left to play on Wednesday night.
The most likely to start again of the trio of Lallana, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Keita is the latter, and with the Guinean in excellent form with three goals in his last three outings, a final berth would be deserved.
Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Milner, Keita; Salah, Mane, Firmino
However, if the midfield three from the semi-final are left on the substitutes’ bench for fear of overloading, Klopp could resort to a change in formation for Saturday.
With the same back five of Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Van Dijk and Robertson, the manager could switch to the 4-2-3-1 seen in recent weeks, with Henderson lining up alongside Milner in the engine room.
Xherdan Shaqiri, who was not wholly effective against Monterrey, could be the beneficiary in this formation change, having only played 68 minutes in midweek.
With the Swiss on the right, Firmino could take up the No. 10 role, with Mane on the left and Salah fulfilling duties up front:
Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Milner; Shaqiri, Firmino, Mane; Salah
Given the importance placed on the final, and the squad’s desire to win every trophy, it is likely to be a predictable, full-strength side fielded in Doha.
This should be the best course of action, as Liverpool aim to win the one tournament they have failed to triumph in throughout their history, and return to Merseyside as world champions.