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Joel Matip ‘running out of time’ to return to fitness before Man United

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Liverpool face being without centre-back Joel Matip for the top-of-the-table Premier League clash with Manchester United at Anfield on Sunday.

The Reds are currently without a senior centre-back and started the last match, the defeat to Southampton, with two midfielders at the heart of the back line.

With Man United coming up next at the weekend and the need for three points imperative to regain top spot, the expectation is that Jordan Henderson will revert to midfield – which leaves another gap at the back.

Fabinho will start of course, but alongside him would be Matip if he recovered in time from the injury suffered against West Brom, which the club initially expected to keep him out for around three weeks.

Last week, however, fans were given hope that the big Cameroonian could make a quicker-than-expected recovery – only for that optimism to appear misplaced.

That’s according to the Mirror‘s David Maddock, who says our No. 32 has “yet to train with the first-team squad” despite returning to on-grass running and ball work.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, December 16, 2020: Liverpool's Rhys Williams 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)

If Matip doesn’t get a couple of sessions in with the team before the match, he’s unlikely to be considered for selection – which potentially means he must join in with the rest of the squad by Thursday or Friday’s session.

That will mean a choice between Nat Phillips – who played against Newcastle – and Rhys Williams – whose only league start was against Spurs – to partner Fabinho against United at Anfield.

Klopp’s decision may be slightly eased by the fact that the speedy Anthony Martial, who would be most likely to start as the No. 9 for Solskjaer, seemed to injure his hamstring in the closing minutes on Tuesday night, which would leave the less-mobile Edinson Cavani starting up front again instead.

There’s still plenty of pace from wide and deeper areas to contend with, but the direct rival for Phillips or Williams being a powerful aerial threat is arguably a better contest, even if that is a player who has been an elite performer.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 31, 2020: Liverpool’s manager Jürgen Klopp embraces Nathaniel Phillips after his Premier League debut during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and West Ham United FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by Propaganda)

Maddock further clarifies that “it is understood [Matip] has progressed to training in specially-prepared sessions with the physios”, and suggests risks won’t be taken given the game load ahead after the United match.

The Reds will face games every weekend and midweek up until at least 6 February from this point, seven matches in 20 days from Man United at home to Man City at home.

We’ll need Matip for as many of those as possible if no centre-back is signed this month, as now seems most frequently reported in the media.

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