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Liverpool hope Joel Matip will be fit to return against Man United

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Liverpool have been without any senior centre-backs of late, but the team could be boosted by the return of Joel Matip in time for the crunch game against Manchester United.

A rotating cast has been in place ever since Virgil van Dijk went down against Everton, but matters have come to a head of late with two central midfielders featuring at centre-back against Southampton.

The alternatives are Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams, both ‘natural’ defenders but both hugely inexperienced and not the most rapid and mobile options to face the excellent movement in Saints’ attack.

Jurgen Klopp could have the same decision to make again at the weekend, with an FA Cup tie against Aston Villa likely to see some rotations anyway, but the next league game is a crucial one: the Reds against Manchester United at Anfield, first vs. second in the Premier League.

For that one, the Reds are hoping for a massive positive: the return of Matip after injury, an actual senior central defender to put into the team.

James Pearce of the Athletic said on the Red Agenda podcast that Matip “should be back…the hope is that he will be fit for the Man United game which is looming large on the horizon”.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 27, 2020: Liverpool's Joel Matip goes off with an injury, replaced by substitute Rhys Williams, during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and West Bromwich Albion FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The 29-year-old went off injured against West Brom and has missed Newcastle and Saints since then, while he also won’t feature against Villa in the cup. But a three-game absence would be a best-case scenario considering he was due to be out for around three weeks initially.

That span would have seen him miss five games, United and Burnley being the others, so to get Matip back for the biggest of those games could be a critical factor to tip the balance the Reds’ way.

Pearce added that “the word was it was unlikely additions would be made to the squad in the January window”, with availability and the difficulty of negotiating with clubs cited as reasons as well as financial uncertainty.

As such, question marks remain over whether a new defender will be added to the squad – though the rumours certainly aren’t slowing down any, with three weeks of the window still to go.

With regards to Matip, having him fully fit is a must, so while he might be a rush job for the United game, don’t be surprised to see him dip in and out of the side again thereafter as the Reds manage his workload.

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