After Liverpool’s dismal showing against Burnley on Thursday night, they are offered a shot at redemption immediately when they once again take on Manchester United in the FA Cup on Sunday afternoon.
Since the beginning of Klopp’s reign, it would be a hard task to find a Red’s fan overly angry about the German’s record in England’s most famous cup competition. Generally, whilst frustrating on the night, Liverpool fans in recent times have been quick to move on, returning to the old adage that you simply cannot win everything and that there were other competitions which demanded priority.
For arguably the first time in his tenure on Merseyside though, the first two fixtures of an FA Cup campaign have taken on greater significance; offering the chance to boost confidence in the midst of a poor run of form.
Here, I’ll be looking at what line-up Klopp might opt for and if there is anything his side can learn from the fairly dull 0-0 affair just last Sunday.
Line-up: Go strong or save the players for Spurs?
Klopp’s approach to cup competitions is a well debated topic. Despite constant accusations of fielding weak sides, it’s worth looking back to Virgil van Dijk’s debut against Everton in the same competition. That was a side which consisted of the Dutchman himself, Robertson, Firmino as well as Sadio Mane.
Knowing that they were facing their biggest rivals, regardless of the competition, the German fielded a strong side aware that derby victories are to be savoured in any circumstance. That being said, Klopp would then field one of Liverpool’s youngest sides the following year with the average age only boosted by the likes of James Milner, Adrián and Adam Lallana.Embed from Getty Images
Those victories are probably the only two savoured FA Cup games during the German’s time as manager. Not only because of who they were against but for the inaugural goals of Virgil Van Dijk and Curtis Jones at the age of just 18.
Given the poor run of form, it would be good to see Klopp go with a similar side as he did for the team’s exit from the cup last year. Sadly, the tricky away fixture came during Liverpool’s only off period in an otherwise perfect season but the selection was right. The manager opted for three of his usual back four, Fabinho in the holding role and Sadio Mane as part of his attacking trio.
There will of course be rotation and given Liverpool’s dramatic dip in form in the league, Klopp will likely want the players at their sharpest for the fixture away to Spurs this coming Thursday. Kostas Tsimikas will likely come in as will young Neco Williams given the form of Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Despite the constant concern over the fitness of Joël Matip, he and Fabinho would be the best CB pairing, although it would be no surprise to see one of Williams or Phillips given a run out.
The front three, of course, is where the big debate lies at the minute as they have been struggling for form in recent weeks. It’s reminiscent of a period in Klopp’s first full campaign with the difference being that Liverpool during that time were not creating chances; conversion is the main issue this time.
Divock Origi looked poor against Burnley, as he has done for a while, and spurned Liverpool’s best chance of the game. Hopefully, Klopp’s leaving of Salah and Firmino on the bench was an indication of his thinking.
The strangest case at the minute is that of Takumi Minamino who – since scoring against Crystal Palace – has barely featured. Given that nobody else seems to be scoring at the minute, it would make sense to give the Japanese international his chance to shine.
Last week’s game was a largely dull affair; a classic case this season of big games simply missing the crowd and intensity. That’s not to say there was a lack of effort from either side, but Liverpool is a team who seem to thrive off their fans more than most. You only need look at Firmino’s form in the games with fans versus those without to see the difference.
Manchester United too though were poor and, in the first half in particular, struggled to get a foothold in the game. Thiago, whilst dropping off slightly in the second half, was central to the control that the Reds had during the 90 minutes. The Spaniard glided through Man United’s midfield with ease at times and got Liverpool into areas they could not take advantage of. Some heroics from Alisson were needed in the final 15 minutes, but if Liverpool can replicate that first half performance and add some clinical finishing, the chance to beat the Red Devils is there.Embed from Getty Images
What will also give Klopp’s side hope is Solskjær’s record against the ‘top six’ sides this season. His poor record has seen his side muster one goal against those teams this – a penalty in a 6-1 loss to Spurs – and have shown that they are fragile, especially at Old Trafford. Liverpool meanwhile comfortably dispatched Arsenal and Chelsea, whilst a hard-fought point at the Etihad followed, before a 2-1 win over Tottenham in December adds further gravitas to this statistic.
It feels like the Klopp and co just needs that one goal, however obvious that may sound, for the ruthlessness which has so often defined them to return. At the back, given their horrific luck with injuries, Liverpool have coped well even if it has hampered their usual build up play.
When Liverpool played a depleted Aston Villa, Klopp made it clear that the game was an opportunity to boost confidence. With a tough run of fixtures ahead of them, there is no better place to start than Old Trafford – and give the FA Cup a good go this season.
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