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Jurgen Klopp claims Keita and Ox are not competing for one spot

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Jurgen Klopp insists Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are not in direct competition for a place in his midfield, despite their like-for-like change on Monday.

With Jordan Henderson injured, there is effectively one spot up for grabs in Klopp’s settled lineup, with a third man required alongside Fabinho and Gini Wijnaldum.

At Anfield last time out that position went to Keita, but after a bright start against West Ham the Guinean faded and was replaced before the hour, with Oxlade-Chamberlain taking his place.

The image of Oxlade-Chamberlain coming on as Keita walked off was an eye-catching one, with the No. 15 going on to change the game with his energy, as the Reds fought back for a 3-2 comeback win.

Debate over Klopp’s side for the trip to Watford on Saturday is focused almost solely on which midfielder will start, but speaking in his pre-match press conference the manager claimed “they don’t compete against each other.”

“Hopefully they don’t see it like this, it’s not like this, it’s just that they offer naturally different things,” Klopp said.

“Naby can play better, obviously, than he played, but that was not the reason [he was brought off].

“The game was like it is, and Oxlade came on completely fresh, and with his natural skills, having direction, speed, it’s a different player.

“But that doesn’t really say anything about it, it’s a different situation and we need different players. They are all exceptional.

“That’s all fine, but until the change we were more fixed in positions, it wasn’t flexible enough, it wasn’t unpredictable enough, we were too easy to defend.

“We didn’t really come through in different situations, in other situations we were too high on the wings, lost the ball, counter-attacks and stuff like that.”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, February 24, 2020: Liverpool's Naby Keita during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and West Ham United FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The issues Liverpool faced against the Hammers could well arise again at Vicarage Road, and this could inform Klopp’s selection process, as he explained the situation further.

“The main problem of the game was first, second balls and set-pieces, because without that there’s nothing to do with the midfielders,” he continued.

“Without these problems West Ham wouldn’t have had a lot of the game, they couldn’t gain confidence or whatever in this game, but with these situations they were constantly in the game and that was our main problem.

“That’s what we have to solve, because that will be similar, Foster to Deeney will be a proper and frequently used option for Watford.

“And then we have to be there for these situations and make sure we win much more second balls and then we can use these balls.

“But in this game we were second-best in the second-ball game, for sure.”

Oxlade-Chamberlain’s speed and tenacity could be more effective in this situation, with Keita more suited gliding through a possession-based game, though Klopp rejects the notion that it is one or the other.

Nevertheless, after a disappointing evening against West Ham, it is likely Keita will cede his spot as the Englishman steps in.

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