West Ham United host Liverpool on Monday evening as Jurgen Klopp faces a conundrum with his lineup.
Injuries have rocked Liverpool’s backline in the new year. Joe Gomez has been out since early December, but problems with Dejan Lovren and Trent Alexander-Arnold made the situation worse.
Injury forced out Joel Matip, too, but he returned to face Leicester City in midweek.
Still, Klopp has some shifting to do. Matip will surely partner Virgil van Dijk in the middle again, while Alisson and Andy Robertson are certain to play.
James Milner returns from suspension and should play right-back but that brings more questions on how Liverpool lineup against West Ham.
Liverpool’s attacking strategy
Liverpool have usually played with a 4-2-3-1 system this season, as opposed to the 4-3-3 of last year. It means Mo Salah plays centrally with less focus on attacking fullbacks with wingers.
But should that change against West Ham? The Hammers right-back, Pablo Zabaleta, is 34 years old – surely Liverpool should attack him with pace?
West Ham’s other full-back may well be Aaron Creswell, back from a hamstring injury. That again feels like an opportunity for a winger.
Take a look at the opposition, however, and it’s not that simple.
West Ham’s threat
West Ham’s star of the season has undoubtedly been Felipe Anderson. Playing with a wingers looking to get in behind the opposition would leave isolated full-backs – something Liverpool can’t afford with Milner playing up against Anderson.
Marko Arnautovic likes to drift to that side, too, while Cresswell enjoys getting forward. All things considered, Milner will surely need the support of someone in front of him.
Sadio Mane would be the obvious choice – he’s happy to stay wide and help out his fullback. His replacement on the left would likely be Naby Keita, however.
Liverpool would lose the pace against Zabaleta in that case and move towards attacking the middle with Salah.
What does Klopp risk?
And so the big decision facing Liverpool and Klopp’s lineup to face West Ham is where to gamble.
Do Liverpool attack West Ham in the best possible way, but allow their opponents to attack how they want? Or do they solidify the side, putting faith in the front-line to break down the opposition regardless?
The latter certainly feels like the safer option. Injuries and the fact it’s an away game should push Klopp towards the conservative team – sensible over exciting.
Predicted lineup v West Ham United
Milner – Matip – Van Dijk – Robertson
Wijnaldum – Fabinho
Mane – Firmino – Keita