Jurgen Klopp is unlikely to rotate heavily as Liverpool prepare for their first game of 2020, up against Sheffield United in the Premier League.
A new year, and a new decade, is upon us, and the Reds avoided New Year’s Day action as their relatively comfortable festive schedule nears an end.
Taking on Sheffield United four days on from the 1-0 win at home to Wolves provides a much-needed break, with Klopp left to work with a small squad due to a host of injuries.
The Blades are in excellent form this season, but suffered a 2-0 loss to Man City last time out, after a 1-1 draw with Watford, which will no doubt urge them onto a better performance at Anfield.
Klopp has few real decisions to make regarding his selection for this clash, but could make some alterations to keep his squad fresh at this crucial stage.
Here’s how Liverpool could line up at Anfield on Thursday night.
Speaking in his pre-match press conference on New Year’s Day, Klopp confirmed there were no new injuries in his squad, but Fabinho, Joel Matip, Dejan Lovren, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Xherdan Shaqiri are all still out.
“[They are] all in a good way, but from the longer-term injuries there’s nobody back,” he explained.
“Ox looks good, Joel looks good, Fabinho looks good, Lovren looks good…but not ready. It will be the same group as last time.”
This leaves the manager with a limited squad, with absences in defence, midfield and attack, and there are likely to be a number of academy players on the substitutes’ bench once again.
Neco Williams, Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott have all enjoyed matchday experience of late, and the return of Rhian Brewster to training could see the striker considered ahead of his expected loan move to Swansea.
Nat Phillips is back from his spell with Stuttgart, but it is unclear whether the 22-year-old is available or, like new signing Takumi Minamino, he will be required to wait for Sunday’s FA Cup third-round clash with Everton.
That tie is more likely to be when Klopp makes wholesale changes, with a full-strength side probable against United.
Liverpool’s Starting XI vs. Sheffield United
Klopp described the three-day gap between games as “a proper recovery,” which indicates that the manager won’t be making many changes on Thursday night.
In fact, there is only one likely switch for the Reds, with Naby Keita to take over from Adam Lallana in midfield.
With Fabinho and Oxlade-Chamberlain sidelined, Keita is Klopp’s best option alongside Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum, and the Guinean has struck an excellent vein of form of late.
Alisson will make his 50th Premier League appearance for the club between the sticks, with a settled back line of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joe Gomez, Virgil van Dijk and Andy Robertson likely ahead of him.
And supported by the Henderson-Wijnaldum-Keita trio should be Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino in attack:
Alisson; Trent, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Wijnaldum, Keita; Salah, Mane, Firmino
There is scope for Klopp to make more changes to ensure a fresher side, however, and one of the key areas would be at full-back, with Alexander-Arnold and Robertson among the Reds’ most-used players so far this season.
Alexander-Arnold was more recently rested, coming off the bench to play 16 minutes in the Club World Cup semi-final against Monterrey, which suggests Robertson should be the one to come out against United.
James Milner is an able stand-in, though he will have his hands full up against George Baldock, who is the Blades’ top assist-provider this season, with four.
With Milner joining Alexander-Arnold, Gomez and Van Dijk ahead of Alisson, Klopp could also opt for an alteration in both midfield and attack.
Sticking with his 4-2-3-1 formation from the 1-0 win over Wolves, the manager could partner Wijnaldum with Keita in the two-man engine room, allowing Henderson to take an evening off.
And in attack, Lallana could then drop out as Divock Origi comes in, with the Belgian operating on the left, Mane on the right and Firmino behind Salah up front:
Alisson; Trent, Gomez, Van Dijk, Milner; Wijnaldum, Keita; Mane, Firmino, Origi; Salah
Klopp could throw a curveball in this clash, but the big changes are more likely in the FA Cup, where Phillips, Williams, Jones, Elliott, Minamino and Brewster could all come in, among others.
A full-strength approach in the league is the best course of action, and a return to the 4-3-3 may be better suited to combating United’s much-vaunted 3-5-2.