Rotation, FA Cup priorities & changes – Debating Liverpool’s approach vs. Chelsea

Liverpool are straight back into action on Tuesday with an FA Cup tie at Chelsea, with Jurgen Klopp facing a big selection poser.

In normal circumstances, the Reds might look to rotate for the domestic cups—but there are different factors at play this time around.

The Premier League title is all but wrapped up, despite a dismal defeat at Watford, meaning some fans have spoken about the possibility of focusing more on the two remaining trophies at stake, one of which is the FA Cup.

There’s also the poor weekend performance to consider, in terms of changes to the lineup, the impact the squad players might have and a few players hoping to return from injury.

The players themselves have made it clear they want to bounce back with a positive result, so should Klopp be going full strength, all-in on rotation, or somewhere in-between?

To mull over the possibilities and the best route forward for the Reds, This Is Anfield’s Karl Matchett (@karlmatchett) spoke to Anfield Index podcasters Dave Hendrick and Gagan Tandon (@GagsTandon) to discuss the changes, the must-plays and exactly where this game ranks now in our priorities.


What’s your initial reaction to the team who faced Watford? Give them a chance to put it right or make the changes the performance warrants?

WATFORD, ENGLAND - Saturday, February 29, 2020: Liverpool during the FA and Watford players walk out before the Premier League match between Watford FC and Liverpool FC at Vicarage Road. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

DAVE: For most of those who started, I’d give them another chance. There’s one outlier, everyone knows who that is and he should never play for the club again.

For the rest, run it back. Bring Matip in next to Virgil and go strong. I think we’d be foolish to go with anything other than a strong side while we still have a chance at a treble.

GAGS: My gut reaction toward the team is one of disappointment. To see such a wonderful team, which has achieved amazing things this season, lose like that and show little or no fight is something we are not used to as Liverpool fans.

Klopp and his team have spoiled us and that means the reaction to a loss where we were literally thrashed by a relegation-threatened team, who scored three goals with minimal possession and that hammered us on quality of chances, was without a doubt totally unacceptable.

It makes no difference to the league, it delays the inevitable because, like Thanos, Liverpool as league champions is inevitable. Therefore some shift in priorities may be what the manager should go with.

WATFORD, ENGLAND - Saturday, February 29, 2020: Liverpool's Jurgen Klopp during the FA Premier League match between Watford FC and Liverpool FC at Vicarage Road. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

KARL: I haven’t changed my mind about the Chelsea match and the lineup we should look to put out. As far as I’m concerned the FA Cup is a dress rehearsal for Atletico and that’s how it should be treated.

Every player in the dressing room knows the Watford performance was a shambles, they won’t need to be shamed or disciplined over it.


In the context of the Reds’ next three games—Chelsea, Bournemouth, Atletico—where does this first match rank in importance?

MADRID, SPAIN - Tuesday, February 18, 2020: Liverpool's Roberto Firmino during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 1st Leg match between Club Atlético de Madrid and Liverpool FC at the Estadio Metropolitano. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

DAVE: In order: Atletico, Chelsea, Bournemouth.

We’re going to win the league, and even with some rotation for Bournemouth I think we should have more than enough to beat them. I’d use that game to rest anyone Klopp feels needs rest before Atletico.

GAGS: I’d like to see a strong spine against Chelsea. I hope the likes of Adrian and Curtis Jones start but I’d feel comfortable with a lot of the first team around them.

The boys have something to prove, bouncing back with a win at Stamford Bridge would be just what everyone needs.

Anyone that listens to our Under Pressure show on AI Pro knows that Liverpool love to play Eddie Howe; his side are the perfect opposition so I don’t see any issues in the next league game.

However, it is sandwiched in between two vital cup ties. Liverpool exists to win trophies more so than records about league wins.

Getting to the quarter-finals of both competitions would be important and there will be a shift in priorities in the season soon.

Otherwise, we run the risk of an early league win and a real drab end to the season with nothing else to play for. The advantage of being in this position in the league should be used so that we can advance in other competitions.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, September 22, 2019: Liverpool's goalkeeper Adrián San Miguel del Castillo catches the ball and collides with Chelsea's Tammy Abraham during the FA Premier League match between Chelsea's FC and Liverpool FC at Stamford Bridge. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

KARL: Exactly as Gags notes, we simply must take the benefits of the position we have put ourselves in.

Atletico is the obvious big one, but the FA Cup takes precedence over the Bournemouth game and, as much as “one game at a time” has been our club motto this season, this time it’s entirely proper that we plan for the three in a row.

If we go through to the last eight in Europe, it’s near-certain we’ll give non-starters a run in the league once the title is won, so doing it here shouldn’t make any difference—in fact it should even boost competition for places and give a few extra players the chance to earn a regular spot.


Which players absolutely have to play against Chelsea and why?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, October 30, 2019: Liverpool's Naby Keita during the Football League Cup 4th Round match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

DAVE: Trent, Virgil, Fabinho and Naby, if fit, all need to start.

Trent and Virgil had arguably their worst games against Watford and need to bounce back. Fabinho needs to keep playing so he can play his way into form. And the same goes for Naby.

Naby and Fabinho should ideally be nailed-on starters and if they stay fit they absolutely can be because they are the two best midfielders at the club. Matip needs to start if Gomez is out.

GAGS: If Gomez is still injured I’d like to return to Van Dijk and Matip.

They were formidable at the end of last season and going back to that would be a boost after the defensive performance at Vicarage Road.

Two of the front three should play with Takumi Minamino so that he can get some minutes with two of them. If Naby is fit it would be good to see him, Fabinho and Curtis Jones.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, February 4, 2020: Liverpool's Curtis Jones during the FA Cup 4th Round Replay match between Liverpool FC and Shrewsbury Town at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

KARL: Adrian probably starts as Klopp has said the FA Cup is his, and he has already shown he can do a serviceable job so that’s fine.

As I said, it’s almost a practice event for the Atletico game so I want almost the same team in place against Chelsea as will face the Spanish side.

Matip back in is a must, as we’ll want him if Gomez is out for any longer.

Minamino starting isn’t the worst idea considering our front three have been very flat since the winter break, and I’d also make the case for Jones to start.

We’ve given Keita and Oxlade-Chamberlain a start and neither one has quite sparked to absolutely demand they stay in the team.

Jones deserves to stake his own claim after another couple of outrageously brilliant performances at U23 level—he can’t do anything else there now, he’s beyond it.

Whether it’s as a No. 8 or from the left of the front three, he should be the only other concession for the starting lineup.


Give us your starting XI to play at the Bridge…

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - Thursday, January 23, 2020: Liverpool's Takumi Minamino during the FA Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers FC and Liverpool FC at Molineux Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

DAVE: Alisson; Trent, Matip, Virgil, Robertson; Ox/Gini, Fabinho, Naby; Salah, Mane, Minamino.

It’s important that Naby plays on the left of the three, while I’d like each of the front three to have one of the next two games out.

Rest Bobby in this one, then go Minamino, Bobby and Origi or Ox against Bournemouth.

GAGS: Adrian; Trent, Matip, Van Dijk, Robbo; Fabinho, Jones, Keita; Salah, Mane, Minamino.

KARL: Adrian; Trent, Matip, Virgil, Robertson; Fabinho, Wijnaldum, Jones; Salah, Mane, Minamino.

I’d be glad to see Keita back in if he’s fit, over Wijnaldum, though I do fear a Fab-Naby-Jones triumvirate could be very much ‘off it’ in terms of tactical cohesion, given at least one would be on their wrong side of the centre and they haven’t had any action to speak of together.