Jurgen Klopp could have a positive selection quandary as he calls upon a significantly stronger squad for Liverpool’s trip to Tottenham on Saturday.
The Reds make their first-ever trip to Spurs’ new stadium this weekend, for the third of seven games this month and a return to the Premier League.
Coming up against Jose Mourinho’s out-of-form side in north London gives Liverpool another opportunity to extend their stunning form, with 58 points from 60 games so far.
That the Reds came through the festive period unscathed in terms of results was hugely impressive given the amount of injuries within Klopp’s squad, but fortunately this fixture should mark a boost in availability.
This could, in turn, present a series of difficult choices for Klopp to make, which ensures predicting his lineup at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is tougher than usual.
Here’s how Liverpool could take to the field on Saturday evening.
After Klopp spent the majority of December bemoaning his lack of ‘adult’ players, many of those sidelined of late are close to returning to the fold.
Joel Matip and Xherdan Shaqiri were both back in training on Tuesday, though Klopp explained the centre-back “was not part of all parts,” which suggest he could miss out.
However, Shaqiri “trained completely normal,” which provides a possibility for rotation in attack.
Furthermore, Takumi Minamino‘s first start for the club in the FA Cup over Everton on Sunday should be followed by an inclusion in the squad for the league, providing another option.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also swelled the ranks with his surprise return in the Merseyside derby, and a productive 20 minutes off the bench at Anfield could prime him for a bigger role against Spurs.
Nat Phillips is also available as defensive cover, as he continues his stint back at Liverpool this month.
However, neither Dejan Lovren or Fabinho are fit to take part, with the duo expected back in full training next week, while Liverpool “don’t have to put a timeframe” on muscle injuries for James Milner and Naby Keita.
A Welcome Selection Headache
The increase in options can only be seen as a positive for Liverpool, as though Klopp has managed his squad well of late with peripheral figures stepping up, there is no let-up in the schedule.
A seven-day gap between the trip to Spurs and the visit of Man United is the longest the Reds will have until the Premier League‘s winter break next month.
Therefore, the likes of Matip and Shaqiri can be brought into the side in the coming games, and possibly as early as Saturday, with Klopp able to reintroduce key names.
For example, the return of Matip could allow the manager to rest Joe Gomez, with the 22-year-old required to pull a double shift as part of the squad for the derby.
Not only that, however, as the performances of Liverpool’s youngsters—and most notably that of Curtis Jones—in the FA Cup could put pressure on Klopp to consider a bigger role for them in the second half of the campaign.
Jones spoke of his frustration at watching games as an unused substitute after scoring a spectacular winner, and the 18-year-old provides an exciting option in midfield.
The established full-strength approach is more likely for this high-profile fixture, but perhaps more rotation will come throughout January.
Liverpool’s Starting XI vs. Tottenham
As ever, the major talking point with Klopp’s starting lineup lands on one position, with the absence of Fabinho allowing for experimentation in midfield.
There is no reason for the manager to take risks with either Matip or Shaqiri at this stage, given the increase in numbers available and the form of those deployed in their stead.
Therefore, Gomez should rightly keep his place in the back four alongside Trent Alexander-Arnold, Virgil van Dijk and Andy Robertson, with Alisson taking over from Adrian after his heroics last weekend.
In midfield, Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum are guaranteed starters, and if Klopp perseveres with a 4-3-3, Oxlade-Chamberlain is the most likely third man.
This would leave the front three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino to pursue another victory over Spurs:
Alisson; Trent, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Wijnaldum, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Salah, Mane, Firmino
There is, however, also the possibility of Minamino following up a bustling debut in the FA Cup with a first Premier League outing as part of the starting lineup.
The versatile Japanese could allow Klopp to switch systems back to the 4-2-3-1, and with the rest of the side remaining the same he is able to take up duties on the right flank.
This would ensure Mane is still up against the suspect Serge Aurier, while with both Minamino and Firmino stationed deeper there should be plenty of gaps to exploit between Spurs’ midfield and defence.
It would certainly be an interesting prospect to see the No. 18 deployed alongside Klopp’s established attacking trio for the first time, and it could well put pressure on both Oxlade-Chamberlain and Shaqiri for the long term:
Alisson; Trent, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Wijnaldum; Minamino, Firmino, Mane; Salah
Despite the options at his disposal, Klopp is unlikely to spring too many surprises in north London, and that is why Jones makes neither potential lineup.
But with a near full-strength side poised to start, there should be genuine quality in reserve for the Reds in their pursuit of a 20th league win this season.