Jordan Henderson’s return to fitness boots Jurgen Klopp’s options in midfield, but leaves him with a big decision to make.
Liverpool’s successful defence of their European crown now rests on overturning a 1-0 deficit to Atletico Madrid to book a place in the last eight.
Klopp’s men received a timely confidence boost in the form of a 2-1 win over Bournemouth last time out, a result which helped propel the Reds to within six points of officially securing the title.
For now, however, all focus remains on Anfield and another European night to savour – an evening which could mark the return of the captain.
It leaves the manager with a number of decisions to make in the middle of the park for what is a season-defining game.
Here’s a look at how Klopp could set up his side at Anfield for the all-important clash.
As one key figure returns another takes his place in the medical room, with Alisson trading places with Henderson.
Liverpool’s No. 1 was dealt an injury blow during training prior to the FA Cup meeting with Chelsea, a hip issue which is set to keep him sidelined beyond Monday’s meeting with Everton.
It means Adrian will retain his place and play his third consecutive game for the first time since October.
For the skipper, he has successfully recovered from the hamstring strain picked up in the first leg and having returned to full team training on Sunday is in the mix for selection after missing the last four games.
In his pre-match press conference, Klopp revealed Henderson was “ready” but was not prepared to reveal how he would use his captain on the night.
But Henderson’s return bolsters the midfield options, with the likes of Fabinho, Gini Wijnaldum, James Milner, Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Adam Lallana all vying for a place in the XI or on the bench.
Andy Robertson, meanwhile, will return straight to the fold after being rested against the Cherries after straining his hamstring in training prior to the game, and Xherdan Shaqiri remains indefinitely sidelined.
Liverpool’s XI vs. Atletico
There’s a number of ways Klopp could go about his selection against Atletico, with the availability of Henderson to play from the start a key factor.
If determined to be fit and firing, he will slot straight back in and could occupy the No. 6 role in place of Fabinho, who has struggled for form and rhythm since making his return to the side from injury.
The Brazilian’s adjustment period is a cautionary tale, but with Henderson missing just three weeks of action his match sharpness should not have taken a considerable hit.
It could then lead to the return of the ‘tried and trusted’ midfield contingent in big games, with Gini Wijnaldum and James Milner sitting alongside the skipper to provide an injection of physicality and leadership.
Elsewhere, the Reds would lineup as expected, with Robertson being restored at left-back alongside Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold, the back four reunited for the first time since the win over West Ham.
And Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino would spearhead the attack, with the latter still on the search for both his first goal at Anfield this season and in the Champions League, in a side that would look like this:
Adrian; Trent, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Wijnaldum, Milner; Salah, Mane, Firmino
Should caution prevail and Henderson only be deemed fit enough to start on the bench, Fabinho will hold onto his deep-lying midfield role and look to have an influence at the time it matters most.
The boss could then be tempted to slot Milner into the middle of the park in Henderson’s absence, but Wijnaldum and Oxlade-Chamberlain get the nod instead.
The former is ever-reliable at Anfield on the big stage and Oxlade-Chamberlain adds a creative spark and drive to penetrate what will be another stubborn display from the Spanish side.
Keita provides similar qualities but it remains to be seen whether Klopp would trust him to do both the offensive and defensive work required.
The defence and attack would then remain the same, with a myriad of options to call upon from the bench if needed across all departments, in a side that would take to the field like this:
Adrian; Trent, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Wijnaldum, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Salah, Mane, Firmino
All eyes will be on the midfield selection on Wednesday evening and, as aforementioned, it will rely heavily on Henderson’s ability to play close to the full 90 minutes.
But regardless of the XI Klopp selects, the Reds need a higher level of intensity on and off the ball than has been seen in recent games in order to turn the tie in their favour.
“Freedom” and unpredictability were key for Klopp ahead of the game and the European champions are more than capable of delivering.