Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has a difficult balancing act to negotiate in the Champions League as he seeks to offset the physical demands on his players with the considerable financial rewards on offer.
Having qualified for the last 16 as group B winners with a 2-0 victory over Atletico Madrid, their last two matches are dead rubbers.
However, they are worth about £2.5million per victory and so another two wins against Porto and AC Milan roughly equate to Sadio Mane’s current yearly salary.
While that may seem a trifling amount for a club who spent £320m on wages – the second highest in the Premier League, according to their last published accounts – in a world where they cannot compete with the transfer spend of Chelsea and both Manchester clubs, every penny counts.
Klopp is aware of the monetary implications but his priority will be the welfare of his players, having seen another added to the injury list when Roberto Firmino went off with a hamstring injury which is likely to sideline him for a month.
James Milner (hamstring), Naby Keita (thigh), Harvey Elliott (ankle), Curtis Jones (eye) and Joe Gomez (calf) are all out for varying periods of time.
Klopp will also have in the back of his mind the last occasion he played one of his senior players in a dead rubber – Midtjylland early last December – and ended up losing Diogo Jota to a knee injury for three months.
He cannot afford a similar outcome again as he will be without Mohamed Salah and Mane for January and possibly the early part of February due to the African Nations Cup.
“The team we line up depends on the situation we are in around the game. Who was in the game before, who is the next opponent,” said Klopp on his selection plans.
“That was always (the case), it’s not now just for these games, that’s how it is. We changed five times (against Atletico) because we don’t consider the Madrid game more important than the West Ham game.
“So you have to make changes even when players might not like it in a specific moment.
“The next one (Champions League match) is at home, the game after that is at San Siro and I’ve never played there, so I’m really excited about that.
“Can you imagine we play Porto at home, the crowd is really coming from all over the world to watch the games and then you offer, I don’t know, a half-cooked dish?
“That is pretty not much how it will be. We go for it, we want to win football games, that’s all.”
Regardless of Klopp’s protestations it sees probable the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Takumi Minamino, Divock Origi and Kostas Tsimikas will enjoy more European game time before Christmas.
Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has not started back-to-back matches since July 2020 when Liverpool had already clinched the Premier League title, is relishing the prospect of a potential longer run in the side.
“A player like me who sometimes does risky things like run with the ball and drive with the ball, rhythm helps that,” the midfielder told LFCTV.
“Rhythm helps all players, but especially for me the way I play. With game time and more games, it all becomes a bit more natural and I don’t have to think about these things as much.
“It’s getting better, but obviously at the minute we have got a few injuries in midfield. Hopefully soon we will have everyone back and the competition starts.
“As long as I can be absolutely ready and be able to perform well when needed, I need to make sure I am doing that.
“Games help and I felt better, but definitely can improve even more for sure.”
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