Jurgen Klopp is set to use the eight days between Liverpool’s FA Cup win at Aston Villa and the visit of Man United for “a lot of 11 vs. 11 situations” in training at Kirkby.
The Reds eventually made light work of Villa’s academy side as a brace from Sadio Mane and goals from Gini Wijnaldum and Mohamed Salah sealed a 4-1 win at Villa Park.
Job done, then, but with little to celebrate as Liverpool triumphed over a Villa lineup with an average age of 18 due to a COVID-19 outbreak among the first team.
But progress to the fourth round is secured, with no injuries to the senior players Klopp risked, which allows the focus to turn to the visit of Man United in the Premier League on January 17.
United have two fixtures between now and then – an FA Cup clash with Watford on Saturday and a Premier League trip to Burnley on Tuesday – but Liverpool can begin preparations immediately.
Klopp is planning to use the rare, unbroken time at Kirkby to oversee “a lot of 11 vs. 11 situations,” as his squad look to regain “rhythm” ahead of a must-win title clash.
“Exactly, and that’s what we will do. That’s what we will do. It’s very important,” he told BT Sport, when asked if the emphasis was now on plotting for victory over United.
“We have a lot of players with no rhythm, so we will do a lot of 11 vs. 11 situations because that’s the most important thing for football players that we couldn’t give them too often.
“So now we have the time and we will use it for that, yes.”
Klopp believes there was a rustiness to Liverpool’s game in the first half at Villa Park – which ended at 1-1 after Louie Barry cancelled out Mane’s opener – but that they found their groove after the break.
“Yes. Pretty much in passing and moving, against a deep-defending side,” he said, when asked if the problem was with the Reds’ tempo.
“We had too many players on the wrong side of the ball for the passes, not enough receivers, if you want.
“We still had situations, crosses, we had chances, we shot the balls directly on the goalie – in the second half we changed that and [put it] past him.
“So these kinds of things, that’s how it is. It was a bit of a rusty start, but the second half was exactly like we wanted it to be.”
The manager was keen to not oversell the win due to the circumstances, saying: “The boys were there, but in the end – as we said before the game – there’s not a lot to win apart from going to the next round. That’s what we did, and that’s how we take it.”
Back to Kirkby for Liverpool, now, where Klopp will be scrabbling to find four fit centre-backs to play in these 11-on-11 games – with the likes of Billy Koumetio, Sepp van den Berg and Morgan Boyes on hand to fill in.