Ahead of the Reds’ trip to Old Trafford on Sunday, in arguably the biggest game of the season so far, Stephen Lindell indulges in his starting XI against Manchester United.
Liverpool face the biggest test of their title credentials yet, as they travel to high-flying Manchester United at Old Trafford, in what promises to be a tempestuous match.
The rivalry between these two spans back to the mid-20th century, where the Reds enjoyed a plethora of success, both domestically & in the league, too.
But, as United began to take control of English football [preceding Sir Alex Ferguson’s arrival at the helm in 1989], the Red Devils have already overhauled Liverpool then-record 18 league titles, when they recorded their 20th in 2013.
Both teams’ success in the past, has fueled hate, jealousy, bitterness, envy – and who, of course, can forget the diverse traditions both cities hold to their name. Both sides have been reconfigured as the driving forces of both English & European football.
And, the bad blood, anger, frustration, agony, fun & games will all be on show for 90 minutes, as the Reds make the journey to one of their fiercest rivals.
But, with United being tipped the favourites, how should Liverpool approach this game? Let’s take a look at my starting XI & other opinions in throat..
Before I actually discuss what team Klopp should go for on Sunday, here’s a reminder of Liverpool’s absentees, who may not be able to make it into the starting eleven at Old Trafford, due to lack of 100% match fitness.
- Jürgen Klopp stated yesterday in his press conference that Joël Matip is back into training, but reports suggest that he may not make it in time, to seal a place in the heart of Liverpool’s defence.
- Jordan Henderson is also on the road to recovery, and the 26-year old could get himself a start in the three man midfield, preferred to the much-maligned Lucas Leiva.
- Klopp also confirmed that Philippe Coutinho, who made a cameo in the second-half in the away tie on Wednesday at Southampton, is back in training. The Brazilian is set to start.
I think, that, Henderson’s inclusion (albeit in doubt) will supply the gait, aggression, fluidity that went painfully astray, during the Reds’ 1-0 defeat in the EFL Cup away at Southampton, on Wednesday. Lucas Leiva & Emre Can clearly don’t make a good midfield partnership, and it’s almost certain the former won’t be starting on Sunday.
Joël Matip potentially returning to the side can offer us some confidence in defence, an area which many pundits have highlighted as a potential opportunity for Jose Mourinho’s United to exploit.
We saw Dejan Lovren & Ragnar Klavan starting as the CB partnership on Wednesday – albeit the former performed marginally better on the night, there are still lingering concerns about the potential lack of physicality in the defence, which the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic can pounce upon.
Unfortunately, hearing reports on Friday, Matip may not be able to regain full match fitness for the game, which could mean that we see a similar partnership at centre-back, which will undoubtedly be met with grimaces from Liverpool fans. However, nothing is set-in-stone yet, therefore, it will be an anxious wait for us all.
Now, moving onto Coutinho – this will probably please Liverpool fans the most, up there with Henderson’s road to recovery. Since nastily injuring his ankle on November 26, the despairing images of the Brazilian in discomfort left Reds supporters looking away in horror.
There were fears that the magical Brazilian would miss out on a large chunk of the remaining season, but after some rehabilitation, he has finally worked his way into the side, even though Klopp’s men appear to have found a winning formula without him.
Now you’ve heard all the injury news, it’s time for my starting XI pick.
So, in goal, it’s going to be Loris Karius for me. He was much-maligned, following some error-strewn performances earlier this season, but he’s beginning to prove his worth.
The German produced a series of fine saves on Wednesday against Southampton, to ensure the Reds still have a fighting chance of going to Wembley, for the second consecutive year.
In defence, it’s going to be the identical back four, which started on Wednesday. I’m doubtful about Matip’s inclusion, so I’m leaving him out, on the basis of reports that he’s not fit. I can see us easily shipping a few goals at the back here.
Joe Gomez at CB is a possibility; the former Charlton defender started at LB, under Brendan Rodgers, for the curtain raisers of the 2015/16 season – until his injury. The 19-year old put in a decent shift against Plymouth in the FA Cup, but conceded a penalty last season, at Old Trafford, as the Reds lost 3-1. I’m not sure whether it’s a gamble Klopp will be worth taking.
Midfield – it’s an easy choice. Jordan Henderson should be fit to start in the heart of the three-man midfield, and Georginio Wijnaldum preserves his place too, despite a relatively disappointing performance against Southampton, where we saw less of his midfield qualities and runs off the ball.
Wijnaldum’s reading of the game & balance to the midfield shouldn’t be underestimated, and could play a key part in helping Liverpool win the midfield battle, against the likes of Paul Pogba & Ander Herrera, who have impressed in United’s 9 match winning streak in all competitions.
And, last, but not least. Adam Lallana. Lallana played in a more advanced role on Wednesday’s due to Mane’s absence – but he was painfully ineffective, like he was in the same role for the start of last season & his debut season. I feel, that, him playing as a winger, limits his game. I’d have Lallana over the regressing Emre Can – who seems to have lost his composure, passing & runs off the ball. The German has broken up our player a lot recently, and his rustiness means that he misses out for me.
Going forward. I could have gone with Adam Lallana, but because he often struggles to supply the creativity & efficient play there, I feel that Divock Origi would be the better alternative. Origi can provide the legs that Liverpool’s attacking play was devoid of, and Daniel Sturridge, for me, will have to settle for a place on the bench.
For me, Roberto Firmino is more suited to a central role, as his strengths lie in making good runs & drifting from infield. We saw his running make a huge difference at the start of the season, where he put in some delightful displays – especially at home to Leicester. He lacks the pace, sharpness, awareness, final ball or decision making to be a wide player, as demonstrated of late.
Some may question my decision to prefer Firmino up top to the likes of Divock Origi or Daniel Sturridge. But I feel that Origi would be suited more as a substitution – he can definitely provide the legs where required, and I feel the team lacks fluency when he’s in the side. That said, he’s of frightening potential.
And, to cap my team, it’s Coutinho completing the front line. He didn’t provide too much danger against the Saints in midweek, but, if he’s given 90 minutes, in a game like this, he has the capability to slice United apart.
If this game was played in October, I’d have easily gone for a Liverpool win, and that probably would have been the stock narrative of the media too.
But, with United carrying much more momentum than Liverpool have been lately, you can’t blame any Liverpudlian fearing the worst tomorrow.
The consensus has been that the Reds have lacked their early season qualities, and look like a team shorn of any energy or confidence. And, a trip to their biggest enemy – compounded by defeat, would not help matters one bit in the long-term, especially for Klopp’s & Liverpool’s title hopes.
What will worry Liverpool most is their defence – who had gone without conceding in consecutive games before – are back to their nervous worst. Klopp isn’t feeling the pressure, but there is no denying that the Reds will need to show a lot more energy & potency going forward.
We’ve shown we can do it without Coutinho – now it’s time to prove if we can do it without Mane. Adam Lallana faces a massive task for the next month, to fill the Senegalese’s void.
Unfortunately, I feel, United’s attack will undermine anything Liverpool have in the locker. It really depends on how both sides approach their game, and what their mentality is. Will Liverpool go full guns blazing, and bring their A game going forward – or will they sit back & settle for a point?
And, as for United, will they approach this game, going for the win from the off? Or, will they use the same ‘park the bus’ tactical vision that Mourinho deployed to great effect in October, to stifle Liverpool’s creativity? If both sides go for the former, I think we’ll have a great game on our hands.
This may sound scornful, but, as a Liverpool fan, I’m just going for realistic perceptions based on optimism. This result could damage our title hopes, or it could be the driving force for us to keep ground on the leaders, Chelsea. Win, knock the stuffing out of them. Lose, don’t want to talk.
Prediction: Man United 2-1 Liverpool
Fancy a bet or two, for Merseyside v Manchester? Get 11/10 on a Manchester United win, 23/10 for another bore draw, or 13/5 for a Liverpool win, sending the away contingent with a happy journey back to Merseyside. You can do so, with Sky Bet.
Written by @SteLindellLFC