Matip back and Shaqiri an option? – Predicting the Liverpool lineup vs. Man United

Jurgen Klopp‘s team selection for Sunday’s must-win title clash with Man United largely rests upon the fitness of Joel Matip, which could impact both defence and midfield.

The Reds head into their meeting with northwest rivals United second in the Premier League, three points behind Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side after they caught up on their games in hand.

United put Burnley to the sword with a close 1-0 win in midweek, with their return to the top of the table leading to overexaggerated claims that the Manchester side are ‘back’.

Liverpool can make a big statement in this respect as they make their way out at Anfield on the back of a strange 4-1 win over Aston Villa in the FA Cup, with the need to respond to a run of three league games without a win abundantly clear.

Klopp remains without a number of key players, of course, and his decision over Sunday’s lineup may rest entirely on the shoulders on one injury-ridden centre-back.


Matip: In or out?

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Klopp insisted it is “not decided yet” whether Matip could feature against United, though the Cameroonian is “close” to a return from an adductor problem.

“Does it make sense now to throw him into a game with one or two sessions – which he didn’t do yet, but today and tomorrow he might be involved – and bring him in?” he asked.

“I don’t know, we have to see. We have to decide it then. We have to look at him, how he trains and how he looks in training, these kinds of things.”

With Matip back in training on Friday afternoon, he is expected to come straight back into the starting lineup, to relieve a hit-and-miss run of partners for Fabinho.

This would allow Jordan Henderson to move back into midfield, with Naby Keita still unavailable.

Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Diogo Jota remain long-term absentees, while there are also question marks over Adrian after he missed training on Wednesday.

Kostas Tsimikas, however, is now back fit.


Liverpool’s XI vs. Man United

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 6, 2020: Liverpool's Joel Matip celebrates after scoring the third goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Wolverhampton Wanderers FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 4-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

While Klopp touched upon the importance of not rushing Matip back, the magnitude of Sunday’s game – and the issues faced with Henderson, Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams in recent outings – could see the manager take a gamble with his No. 32.

If that is the case, Klopp can name his strongest possible side in a 4-3-3 and take the fight to United.

Matip would join a back four alongside Trent Alexander-Arnold, Fabinho and Andy Robertson, with Alisson between the sticks and Henderson returning to midfield.

Henderson could then be deployed in his favoured role as one of the more advanced midfielders, with Thiago making his first start at Anfield as No. 6 and Gini Wijnaldum operating in his usual box-to-box duty.

Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino will, in all likelihood, start as the first-choice front three:

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

But if Matip is deemed not fit enough to start, Klopp faces a big call over which of his stand-in options should partner Fabinho.

Despite his crucial role in midfield, Henderson could be deemed the most suitable in a big-game situation, which could, in turn, prompt a formation change.

With the captain joining Alexander-Arnold, Fabinho and Robertson ahead of Alisson, Thiago and Wijnaldum could form a double-pivot midfield in a 4-2-3-1.

And while preserving a 4-3-3, with either Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Curtis Jones taking the third spot, may be a more sensible approach, Xherdan Shaqiri presents a wildcard if the formation changes.

Having made an impact from the bench in recent games, the Swiss playmaker could start on the right of the three supporting slots in attack, with Firmino as No. 10, Mane on the left and Salah up front:

Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Henderson, Fabinho, Robertson; Thiago, Wijnaldum; Shaqiri, Firmino, Mane; Salah

While it is unlikely, Shaqiri has contributed to more goals against United than any other side in his career, and given the shaky situation in defence, his involvement in an all-out-attack approach could take Solskjaer’s side by surprise.

Fingers crossed that Matip is fit and able to start, however, as this is a clash Liverpool need to take all three points from.