Jurgen Klopp will almost certainly make 11 changes for the visit to the League One side in the FA Cup fourth round, but that does not mean the Reds’ lineup will be weak. In fact, it will be far stronger than the one that beat Everton in the third round.
That’s because this game provides the perfect opportunity for some vital first-team players returning from injury to get minutes for their fitness. “It makes sense to play them,” said Klopp at his pre-match press conference. Fabinho’s last start was at the end of November, but two sub appearances this week means he’s perfectly placed to come into the side: “It’s a chance for a lot of players,” said the boss.
Liverpool have coped impressively without Fabinho, who was seen by many before his injury as being Klopp’s most important midfielder. Many supporters wanted to see Gini Wijnaldum deputise as the deepest midfielder, but the manager went with his captain and Jordan Henderson has been in the form of his life in the past two months.
Henderson provided the goal and the assist in the win against Wolves and has arguably Liverpool’s man of the match in their last two outings. He has certainly stepped up in Fabinho’s absence, but the Brazilian’s return does mean he can either get a much-earned rest or return to a more advanced role in midfield.
Meanwhile, centre-backs Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip being back in full training has meant Nathaniel Phillips, who made his debut against Everton, has returned to Stuttgart on loan and the experienced duo will give Liverpool a very strong core even in the absence of Joe Gomez and Virgil van Dijk on Sunday.
Gomez, like Henderson, has been superb since stepping into the side after injuries to Matip and Lovren, going from the third choice to partner Van Dijk, to now without doubt first choice alongside the Dutchman and quite arguably England’s best centre-back.
What’s also nice, and a huge improvement for Klopp’s squad from a year ago, is that Gomez is now no longer required to fill in at right-back in order to give Trent Alexander-Arnold a rest. That’s because Neco Williams, the Welsh teenager, has been so impressive in the Cup games against Arsenal and Everton this season. He’ll start again on Sunday.
On the other side of defence, Yasser Larouci certainly did his chances no harm when replacing James Milner early on in that win over the Blues earlier in January, but with Milner back in full training just in time, it’s likely the veteran will start and captain the side.
So that’s Fabinho, Matip, Lovren and Milner coming back from injury. This game could not have been better timed for Liverpool, especially between two Premier League games just six days apart.
Alongside Fabinho in midfield, Adam Lallana and Curtis Jones will almost certainly take up the two other positions, with Jones keen to build on his match-winning performance last time.
Another option for Klopp would be to play Milner in midfield, with Larouci at left-back. That such strong options exist and even without using any player who started against Wolves, is a testament to the strength of what is a small but effective squad. Spaniard Pedro Chirivella will be unlucky to miss out after a strong showing against Everton.
In attack, the front three will likely be Harvey Elliott, Takumi Minamino and Divock Origi - the same three that started that third-round tie.
That gives Klopp a likely XI of Adrian, Williams, Matip, Lovren, Milner, Fabinho, Lallana, Jones, Elliott, Minamino and Origi. Eleven changes, but a team that would give most Premier League sides a very good run for their money.
A victory against Shrewsbury would see Liverpool progress past the fourth round for the first time under Klopp’s management, having exited at this stage in his first three seasons and then in the third round last season.
The German, quite rightly given the bigger picture, doesn’t prioritise domestic cups, but this game provides playing time for some fringe players and vital minutes for sidelined players who will have key roles to play in the closing stages of the campaign.
Further progress in the FA Cup, then, will signify yet again the progress being made under Klopp. It would underline the development of players from within the first-team squad and the club’s academy.
Indeed, with an XI similar to the likely one above, there’s absolutely no reason Liverpool couldn’t progress far and quite possibly even lift the FA Cup for the first time since 2006. Winning silverware is a habit and it’s a habit the current European and World champions have a taste for.
That Liverpool are almost certainly going to have the Premier League title secured before the FA Cup semi-final, Klopp would be able to name a stronger team should they reach that stage.
Meanwhile, it’s the same in Europe, where Liverpool should be able to begin rotating players for Premier League and Champions League commitments, should they overcome the strong challenge of Atletico Madrid in the last-16. It’s worth remembering that Liverpool have never lost a two-leg tie under Klopp’s management.
With such strong options now within the squad and the situation of being 16 points clear in the league, there is no reason Liverpool should not dream of gathering more cups than the elusive 19th league title come May.
With the UEFA Super Cup and FIFA World Club Cup already secured, a treble of Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League would make this the most successful season ever by an English side.
And given that there are some from outside of Liverpool that are doubting their quality among ‘best ever’ sides, it would be just like this squad to prove them all wrong by winning it all.
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