Matip to return and rewards for Shaqiri & Jota? – Predicting the Liverpool lineup vs. Atalanta

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Liverpool head to Atalanta for their first-ever clash with the Italian side on Tuesday night, with Jurgen Klopp likely to ring the changes again in the Champions League.

The Reds are currently top of Group D after overcoming both Ajax and Midtjylland, but face arguably their biggest test yet as they take on second-placed Atalanta.

A visit to the Stadio di Bergamo will be Liverpool’s first, and Klopp was full of praise for Atalanta in his pre-match press conference, with the Serie A side scoring 98 league goals last season.

Fortunately, the manager is boosted by an improvement in his options in defence for this tie, with Joel Matip among the players available in Lombardy.

Here’s how Liverpool could line up on Tuesday night.

 

Injuries and ineligibles

The news ahead of Liverpool’s trip to Italy was largely positive, with not only Matip back in full training but Naby Keita, Kostas Tsimikas and Billy Koumetio too.

Thiago was still absent, however, along with Fabinho, Virgil van Dijk and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

And while the Reds are able to name an expanded squad in the Champions League, and Klopp is permitted to make five changes per game, the manager is restricted by registration.

Neither Koumetio nor Nat Phillips were named in Liverpool’s squad for the group stage and are therefore ineligible, which leaves it likely that either Matip or Rhys Williams will partner Joe Gomez at the back.

A 19-man outfield group trained at Melwood on Monday afternoon, with James Milner working separately, but there is no indication at this stage that the vice-captain is ruled out.

 

Liverpool’s XI vs. Atalanta

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, October 1, 2020: Liverpool's captain James Milner drinks water from a plastic bottle during the Football League Cup 4th Round match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield. Arsenal won 5-4 on penalties after a goal-less draw. (Pic by Propaganda)

Though the word ‘crisis’ has been frequently, and rightly, used to describe Liverpool’s issues at centre-back of late, ahead of this game there are more absences in midfield.

With there question marks over Milner’s involvement, and Naby Keita unlikely to be thrown straight back into the starting side, there are few genuine options for Klopp to select from.

At the back, Alisson is an obvious pick between the sticks and, if Matip is, like Keita, not deemed fit enough, Williams should partner Gomez at centre-back with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson.

Klopp may be hoping Milner is available, as the 34-year-old could be the best option to start after another so-so display from Curtis Jones against West Ham on Saturday.

If Milner is passed fit, he could reprise his familiar midfield role alongside Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum, while Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino take up places in attack:

Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, R.Williams, Gomez, Robertson; Henderson, Milner, Wijnaldum; Salah, Mane, Firmino


However, there is scope for rotation in Lombardy, which could see Klopp deploy a 4-2-3-1 formation and shuffle his pack in attack.

With Matip back in the mix, the No. 32 could make his first-ever start alongside Gomez, with Alisson, Alexander-Arnold and Robertson all effectively guaranteed to feature in defence.

Doubt over Milner’s involvement could see Klopp turn to Henderson and Wijnaldum as a double pivot, and hand some of his in-form squad players a chance in the forward line.

Having combined for the winner against West Ham at the weekend, both Xherdan Shaqiri and Diogo Jota could come in, while Takumi Minamino could replace the struggling Roberto Firmino up front.

Like Firmino, Sadio Mane could also arguably benefit from a rest, and starting Mohamed Salah in this 4-2-3-1 would ensure Liverpool still have the firepower to put Atalanta to the sword:

Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Gomez, Robertson; Henderson, Wijnaldum; Salah, Shaqiri, Jota; Minamino


Atalanta are a dangerous side, who focus a lot of their attacks through the central areas, and as such it could be more sensible to set up with a three-man midfield.

But with uncertainty over the fitness of Keita and Milner and the form of Jones, perhaps Klopp will mix things up and push for the win with a new-look attack in the Champions League.

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