MATCHDAY PROGRAMME

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - Thursday, December 14, 2023: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp applauds the supporters after the UEFA Europa League Group E matchday 6 game between Royale Union Saint-Gilloise and Liverpool FC at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Clues to lineup vs. Man United – 5 talking points from USG 2-1 Liverpool

A match where nothing much should be read into it, with the biggest talking point perhaps more who will or will not start against Man United on Sunday.

Union SG 2-1 Liverpool

Europa League (6), Lotto Park
December 14, 2023

Goals: Amoura 32′, Puertas 43′; Quansah 39′

 

Defeat not worth reading into

No Liverpool side will ever come off a pitch accepting a defeat, but some are far easier to take than others, and this one clearly fits that bill.

The fact is, you were never likely to see a brilliant performance from the club’s youngest ever starting XI in a European match (22 years and 156 days), particularly when their more experienced opponents had everything to play for.

That’s before factoring in what was also a pretty poor pitch.

Ultimately, this game will be viewed as an important learning experience for a number of academy prospects and a big chance to rest several weary first-teamers.

Reading too much into the efforts of those young players or the senior stars simply trying to get them through the game is not advisable.

 

Endo and Konate risk overstated

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - Thursday, December 14, 2023: Liverpool players line-up for a team group photograph before the UEFA Europa League Group E matchday 6 game between Royale Union Saint-Gilloise and Liverpool FC at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium. Back row L-R: Conor Bradley, Ibrahima Konaté, goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher, Jarell Quansah, Cody Gakpo, Curtis Jones. Front row L-R: Kaide Gordon, Luke Chambers, Ben Doak, 19', Wataru End?. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

If there was one element of the starting XI that came as surprise, it was without doubt the inclusion of Ibrahima Konate and Wataru Endo.

With Joel Matip and Alexis Mac Allister injured, it would be reasonable to assume that both men will be required for Sunday’s clash with Man United, and so many viewed using them here as a completely unnecessary risk.

But it can be difficult to assess exactly where players sit on that fine line between rhythm and fatigue without access to or an understanding of the information available to the club’s physios.

And, given that Konate had featured in just 200 minutes out of a possible 450 since the last international break and Endo 236, it would be fair to assume that a first-half outing here cannot have done too much harm.

In his post-match press conference, Klopp confirmed the pre-planned changes, saying: “We wanted to share intensity. Do I want to play Joe Gomez or Ibou [for] 90 [minutes]? We had the chance to do 45-45, same in midfield, these changes were planned independent of the result.”

Of course, the truest measure of the value of this outing will come in how the pair perform at Anfield this weekend.

 

Hints at United starting XI offered

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - Thursday, December 14, 2023: Liverpool's Curtis Jones during the UEFA Europa League Group E matchday 6 game between Royale Union Saint-Gilloise and Liverpool FC at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

If the half-time withdrawals of Endo and Konate can be taken as confirmation that they will both start on Sunday, then what else can be gleaned from Klopp’s use of his squad here?

Well, the German is unlikely to want the side he selects to face Man United to be leggy, and so surely won’t go with players who featured for the majority of the 90 minutes here.

With that in mind, it feels instructive that Curtis Jones featured for the entirety of the game while Ryan Gravenberch appeared only in the second half.

And similar can be said of Cody Gakpo‘s use from the start up top in comparison to Darwin Nunez emerging from the bench late in the game.

Only Gakpo, Jones, Elliott, Quansah and Conor Bradley played the 90, so you can rule them out of starting on Sunday.

With four starters left at home in Virgil van Dijk, Mohamed Salah, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Alisson Becker, the starting XI for the weekend already seems pretty clear.

 

Quansah finally gets his big moment

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - Thursday, December 14, 2023: Liverpool's Jarell Quansah scores the first equalising goal during the UEFA Europa League Group E matchday 6 game between Royale Union Saint-Gilloise and Liverpool FC at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Were it not for a laughable handball decision, Jarell Quansah would have already had a first senior Liverpool goal to his name.

That moment should have come when the 20-year-old thundered in a brilliant strike to claim a 3-3 draw at Toulouse with virtually the final kick of the game, only for an over-eager VAR to deny him.

Fortunately, Quansah did not have to wait long to open his account, finding the back of the net here with a goal that was just as eye-catching as that effort in France.

It is the latest milestone in the short career of a player whose emergence in the early part of this season has come as a pleasant surprise to both fans and the manager.

 

Kelleher endures tough evening

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - Thursday, December 14, 2023: Liverpool's goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher looks dejected as Union SG score the opening goal during the UEFA Europa League Group E matchday 6 game between Royale Union Saint-Gilloise and Liverpool FC at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

For all that it would be folly to take too much from Liverpool’s performance here, there are individuals who will no doubt come away feeling that they have let a chance to shine slip.

That is particularly true of Caoimhin Kelleher, for whom these games represent vital opportunities to show he is worthy of a move into a first-choice position elsewhere next summer.

The Irishman was unlucky with a ricochet that left an open goal as USG kicked off the scoring, but was too easily beaten at his near post when the hosts made it 2-1.

And, though it was chalked off for handball, the strike that would have made it 3-1 hardly looked un-savable by usual standards.

Of course, Kelleher combined that with some impressive stops across the 90, but his form has been up and down in rare outings this season and he will be keen to stamp that inconsistency out when next called upon.