Liverpool face a must-win game against Atletico Madrid on Wednesday, and the midfield selection for the clash is an area which has been met with various views.
With the Premier League title all but sealed, the Reds’ hopes of clinching another piece of silverware and defending their European crown rest on overturning a 1-0 deficit at Anfield.
Atletico were pragmatic and proved a stubborn defensive unit to break down in the first leg of the last-16 tie, providing a blueprint which many have since looked to follow to topple Liverpool.
And now the challenge awaiting Jurgen Klopp’s men is to inflict defeat on their Spanish opposition on Wednesday evening to book a place in the quarter-finals, with the makeup of the engine room once again the greatest source of debate.
Since Jordan Henderson succumbed to a hamstring injury in the dying stages of the first leg, two defeats in four games followed—with a lack of leadership and energy noticeable in his absence.
Fabinho has failed to hit the heights seen prior to his ankle injury in November, struggling for confidence, sharpness and the ability to keep up with play—all hallmarks of his game when fit and firing.
And the Brazilian’s struggle leaves Klopp with a decision to make.
With the skipper back in full training and in the mix to feature on Wednesday, the boss has a host of options at his disposal as he looks to steer his side into the last eight.
A multitude of combinations in midfield are therefore available, more so if Henderson is in, and fans have had their say on the trio they would prefer to take to the field should the captain be passed fit.
This Is Anfield posed the question to fans on Facebook and Twitter, with three midfield combinations and the option for an alternative.
Of the 28,000 fans who voted on Facebook, 85 percent were eager to see Henderson back in at the first available opportunity.
His return to the side would leave two slots to fill in what would be an expected 4-3-3 formation, with many eyeing a creative outlet in their final three—whether that be Keita or Oxlade-Chamberlain.
For Bob Shinton, Henderson starting is a no-brainer as long as he was passed fit, but Keita is his player of choice alongside the skipper—to assist in unlocking what is expected to be another defensive display.
“If [Hendo is] 100% fit, of course, he will start. Naby should start as he unlocks tight defences; as long as our team adjust and are prepared when he loses possession. Risk and reward,” he wrote.
It is a selection Tony Arhin supports, with Fabinho missing out as Wijnaldum is his choice to fill the final position: “Henderson, Gini and Naby will be perfect on Wednesday.”
For a similar reason of looking for a man to break the lines, John Dunne opted for Oxlade-Chamberlain over Liverpool’s No. 8 and again overlooked the Brazilian.
“Henderson, Ox and Wijnaldum for me. Fabinho hasn’t been in form and we can expect a triple-decker bus parking in Anfield,” he explained.
Others were eager to err on the side of caution with Henderson as they felt there was no need to risk him if other options are available.
“Protect him please! God knows we need him but bring him on later so we can hold the threat over then and then punish them in the final 30 mins!” is Lynne Walman‘s view.
“Hendo has been very much missed,” Anthony Salmon wrote.
“If he’s fit enough start him. Not usually a fan of rushing players back our team without him has been pretty average let’s be honest.”
Of the 10,746 fans who voted on Twitter, 39.4 percent were in favour of the combination of Fabinho, Henderson and Wijnaldum.
The skipper and Wijnaldum were the ever-presents in the remaining options, with Milner’s shift back into midfield after his display at Bournemouth receiving 23.3 percent of the vote.
There was a similar thought process for @AbdulMIsmail, who instead opted for Ox over Keita.
“Hendo, Fab and Ox. We need to be aggressive and need out-of-the-box shooting capability as Atleti will park the bus,” he wrote.
Similar to their counterparts on Facebook, @jenksville was of the belief that while Fabinho needs time to work back to his best, it can be provided after Atletico as the ‘tried and trusted’ trio get the nod instead.
“People [are] saying [Fabinho] needs game time to get back to form, but give him that after Atletico,” they wrote.
“I’d have Hendo, Gini and Milner…solid and will keep on fighting ’til the last minute even if we were 3-0 down.”
Keita as a “line-breaker” was popular among fans on Twitter as many anticipate another night of trying to pick apart Atletico’s defensive wall.
Overall, the selection dilemma is a nice problem for Klopp to have on his hands, but few could be surprised if he turns to his old big-game combination of Henderson, Milner and Wijnaldum in a clash of this stature.
In saying that, the decision will greatly depend on Henderson’s fitness, though the 29-year-old is expected to be available having returned to training four days before the tie.