NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE, ENGLAND - Wednesday, December 30, 2020: Liverpool’s Fabio Henrique Tavares 'Fabinho' prays before the FA Premier League match between Newcastle United FC and Liverpool FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

No. 19 for Fabinho and Kabak, or Phillips to start? – Predicting Liverpool’s lineup vs. Chelsea

Another defensive question will be posed to Jurgen Klopp as he prepares his side to take on a Chelsea outfit who have conceded only one goal in their last five games.

It’s a top-four showdown as Thomas Tuchel’s side arrive at Anfield just one point and one place above the Reds prior to kickoff.

The Blues will arrive with confidence after failing to taste defeat under their new boss, winning six and drawing three of his opening nine games, conceding just two goals in that time.

They will pose a challenge for Klopp’s men after a turbulent run of results but the return to fitness of key figures provides a welcome boost.

It is no surprise, however, that the main talking point once again rests at centre-back for the Reds with Fabinho back in contention alongside Nat Phillips and Ozan Kabak.

But will a 19th centre-back pairing be named when Klopp names his XI?


Finally some positives

The trend of one step forward and multiple steps back has taken a break this week, with the injury news proving to be positive this time around.

Fabinho is well and truly back in training and will have had a number of sessions under his belt before Thursday, while Diogo Jota has recovered from illness and Alisson is back in the mix.

While the Brazilian pair are expected to slot straight back into the XI, Liverpool’s No. 20 is to return to the bench on his return as Klopp continues to weigh up “how big of steps he can make towards the team again.”

In addition to that, Klopp can also call upon the likes of Naby Keita, James Milner and Ben Davies in a boost to the options after two goalkeepers were named on the bench at Bramall Lane.

It provides a rare selection dilemma for the boss, who touched on his newfound ability not to have to rush the No. 3 back this time around.

“In the past we had to bring the players back almost immediately because another player left the pitch injured the game before or whatever,” Klopp said.

“And this time we don’t have to do that, for the first time maybe.”


Liverpool’s XI vs. Chelsea

SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND - Sunday, February 28, 2021: Liverpool's Nathaniel Phillips (R) and Ozan Kabak (L) during the FA Premier League match between Sheffield United FC and Liverpool FC at Bramall Lane. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

While Klopp may feel he does not need to rush Fabinho back into the XI, it is likely he will do just that in what is a game that could have a lot of say on how the season ends.

The view from the boss was criticism of Kabak and Phillips at Sheffield United was “really picky,” but one cannot underestimate the influence the No. 3 can inject back into a side already without its captain.

And his return after a four-game absence would be alongside the Turk for the 19th centre-back pairing of the season, one which would sit alongside Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold and in front of Alisson.

After a winning formula against the Blades, there is then the temptation to retain the final six figures after an improved outing.

Milner and Keita have a strong case after their cameos from the bench, but they are to offer an impact late on alongside Jota – as the front three remain in place for the sixth game in a row:

Alisson; Trent, Fabinho, Kabak, Robertson; Thiago, Wijnaldum, Jones; Salah, Mane, Firmino

Alternatively, Klopp could look to mix things up as he alluded to the media, with Fabinho moving back into his familiar midfield role.

While admittedly it’s an unlikely eventuality due to the injuries accumulated, there is no getting away from the fact that “in some games [it] would be absolutely helpful.”

Nevertheless, it’s a worthwhile option to consider. It would leave Kabak and Phillips to continue at the heart of the defence for the third game in a row all the while being protected by the Brazilian in the No. 6 role.

The knock-on effect would then see Thiago granted more freedom alongside Keita in what would be his first start since mid-December.

With Chelsea proving difficult to break down and Liverpool finding goals hard to come by, this could be just the trick to add some dynamism, spark and unpredictability – all the while handing Gini Wijnaldum a timely break:

Alisson; Trent, Phillips, Kabak, Robertson; Fabinho, Thiago, Keita; Salah, Mane, Firmino

As aforementioned, despite the wishes of many, it is very unlikely that Klopp goes down the path of moving Fabinho back into midfield for this one and instead is set to deploy his 19th defensive pairing.

Thankfully, the Reds now have options from the bench if needed but there will be no need for extra motivation for this fixture, and the hope will be momentum carries through from the weekend.