Liverpool’s return to Premier League action is nearly upon us as Jurgen Klopp’s Premier League champions-elect prepare for their clash with Norwich City on Saturday.
The German manager has been boosted by the return to first-team training for Sadio Mane and James Milner but is still without the injured Xherdan Shaqiri and Naby Keita.
Liverpool’s 26th match of the season presents the opportunity for the Reds to extend their lead at the top 25 points as well as their 25th victory of the league campaign.
Here is a look at five tricky decisions facing Klopp ahead of the trip to Carrow Road…
Gomez and Van Dijk to remain at the heart of defence?
The only Liverpool defender to have started every PL fixture this season is notably the Reds’ ever-present Dutchman Virgil van Dijk. Each of Klopp’s three remaining central defenders have had consistent spells alongside the UEFA Player of the Year with Gomez the most recent padawan to the Liverpool Jedi master.
However, with the Atletico Madrid trip in mind, could Klopp be tempted in using either Matip or Lovren for the PL clash at Carrow Road and using Liverpool’s best two available centre-backs for the midweek trip to the Spanish capital?
With nine games to play in the next five weeks, it is likely Klopp will at some stage alternate centre-back partners for Van Dijk in the league as well as Europe of entirely during Liverpool’s FA Cup clash with Chelsea.
Is Neco Williams ready?
Is there was one thing we learnt during the winter break it was that the kids can be entrusted when necessary. Liverpool’s young Reds stepped up to the mark with the senior stars were sunning it up on their holidays with Neco Williams, Curtis Jones, Harvey Elliott and Pedro Chirivella particularly impressive.
Williams, 18, was outstanding when deputising for Trent Alexander-Arnold and provided the vital assist as Neil Critchley helped inspire victory to progress Liverpool through to the FA Cup fifth-round for the first time since 2015.
The Wales U19s international could be an option if Klopp wants to keep Alexander-Arnold fresh for Madrid. Also, with the league all but wrapped up, it could be the perfect opportunity to hand Williams his Premier League debut on Saturday.
Is Fabinho ready to start back-to-back games?
The PL’s inaugural winter break came at the perfect time for Liverpool’s very own ‘lighthouse’ Fabinho who made his first league start since November when Liverpool swept aside Southampton a fortnight ago.
However, the Brazilian has looked rusty since his return with Fabinho still lacking momentum since sustaining ligament against Napoli. With Sadio Mane returning to full training, Klopp could be tempted to bring back Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain into the midfield trident making way for the former Monaco man.
Does the midfield pick itself?
When Milner, Fabinho and Keita were all on the sidelines with injury the midfield three became pretty routine with Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum at the base and Oxlade-Chamberlain completing the dynamic triumvirate.
However, with all of Klopp’s midfielders all available for selection against Norwich and with a Champions League last-16 bout in midweek it’s difficult to predict which trio he will go for against Norwich.
With Mane so fresh from injury it is likely Klopp will keep Fabinho in the middle and will push Oxlade-Chamberlain further forward on the left flank following an impressive showing against Southampton before the winter break.
When will Mane be ready?
With Liverpool just six league victories away from securing their first Premier League title, supporters could be forgiven for having their attention averted to Tuesday night’s opening Champions League defence of the new year.
Mane has returned to training for the first time since his hamstring injury picked up at Molineux last month. It remains to be seen how close to the action the Senegalese ace is to return to action but the Liverpool forward will be chomping at the bit to be ready in time for the Atletico clash.