LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, December 16, 2020: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah (L) celebrates after scoring the first goal with team-mate Curtis Jones during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The established XI or rotation after injury returns? – Predicting Liverpool’s line-up vs. West Brom

For the first time in quite a while, Jurgen Klopp may have more senior players available than places in the matchday squad, as West Brom visit Anfield.

The boss has performed a trick which ranks somewhere between a juggling act and a miracle-working over the past few months, keeping the Reds not just competitive but top of the Premier League and top of the Champions League group despite a huge wave of injuries to key personnel.

Liverpool head into their game on 27 December top of the table no matter what other sides do on Boxing Day, with Sam Allardyce’s Baggies looking to become the first team to win a league match at Anfield since Sam Allardyce’s Crystal Palace did so – approaching four years ago.

Bench numbers have been boosted by the Premier League, but Klopp’s squad has been boosted even more over the past week or so.

James Milner and Xherdan Shaqiri are “closer” than Thiago Alcantara to a first-team return, but all three are in training and add themselves to the pool which now also has Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain back involved.

All that, plus the fact it’s over a week since the Reds’ last game, means the boss has previously unheard of options when it comes to picking the team on Sunday.

Team News

There are still four injury absentees, three in defence and one in attack, but that’s a much more manageable number than Klopp has had to deal with for most of this season.

Elsewhere, there appears competition for places once again and several youngsters have forced a reshuffle in squad pecking order this season: Rhys Williams is clearly ahead of the likes of Sepp van den Berg this term, Caoimhin Kelleher has displaced Adrian as No. 2 goalkeeper and Curtis Jones is as much a fully-fledged first-team option now as any other midfielder at the club.

With the recent midfield returns from injury, there’s room for rotation if Klopp wants it now.

But the important factor is that nobody was injured against Palace and nobody has been since reported as taking a knock.

Klopp’s decisions, therefore, will likely be about tactics and timing: when can Milner feature at full-tilt, how much game time can Keita cope with, who does he want in the line-up against Newcastle in three days’ time, and so on.

Liverpool XI vs. West Brom

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, December 16, 2020: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp celebrates at the final whistle during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 2-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

We’ll likely see just how much Jones is regarded as a “first-choice” player now, if he is called upon as much as other, more experienced, senior options when the games come thick and fast with multiple players available.

He’s now set to battle Keita, Ox, Milner and soon Thiago for those central berths, as well as the omnipresent Gini Wijnaldum and club captain Jordan Henderson – yet few would now think he cannot hold his own in that group.

As such, if the Reds return to their ‘strongest’ side against West Brom on the basis of this season, Jones will be in it.

That could be the only big decision that the boss needs to make for this game, as the front three are all likely to start despite Takumi Minamino finally ending his league goal wait in the 7-0 win over Palace last time out.

Roberto Firmino is back in form, Sadio Mane rattled one in against Palace to end his own recent barren streak and Mo Salah scored twice off the bench – and all attacking options are likely to be needed over the 90 minutes to break down an Allardyce team which will quite obviously come to Anfield with the intention of frustrating.

Assuming no other last-minute knocks, Klopp’s sole decision in defence will just be whether to play Joel Matip or not – but after a week-long break, he should be fine to start.

Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Fabinho, Robertson; Henderson, Jones, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Mane

Alternative planning

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 13, 2020: Liverpool's substitute Takumi Minamino during the FA Premier League match between Fulham FC and Liverpool FC at Craven Cottage. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The one consideration here is that West Brom are not likely to have much of the ball and it could become a bit of a training exercise for the Reds: defence against attack.

Picking the team on that basis would be a gamble, but a calculated one: it might yield a reasonable hour of play or so to ease a midfielder back in, or be a fixture to give Rhys Williams further experience at the back and leave Matip totally ready for Newcastle, three days down the line, and quickfire games thereafter.

  • R Williams could get another run-out at the start of a run of three games in eight days
  • Minamino could similarly start, with Mane maybe next in line for a game on the bench
  • Naby Keita is the most likely midfield starter if Klopp doesn’t simply pick the most frequent recent trio

Any one of the three changes are possible, with Oxlade-Chamberlain or potentially Milner the other options instead of Keita.

Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, R Williams, Fabinho, Robertson; Wijnaldum, Jones, Keita; Salah, Firmino, Minamino

The boss is always capable of springing a surprise in his selections, but the most likely course of action appears to go strong from the start here, make the changes as the game demands and then consider rotation for the two away games.

Newcastle and Southampton on the road follow this fixture – all within an eight-day span – and the injury returns could just come at a very helpful time.