The Champions League is back. Liverpool are preparing to take on Ajax tonight in the team’s opening group stage game in Amsterdam.
There were five players who did not travel for the game. These include midfielders Thiago Alcantara and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Alisson Becker is also unavailable.
Defensively, Liverpool are in bigger trouble, with both Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip unavailable through injury.
Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips were called upon by Jurgen Klopp to travel in the aforementioned duo’s absence.
This leaves Liverpool with limited options at the back, with Joe Gomez the only naturally-suited senior central defensive option available to Klopp.
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Here is a look at two ways the team could line-up, with alternate 4-3-3 and 3-4-3 formations…
Liverpool can turn a defensive weakness into an advantage by utilising their array of options to their own strengths.
Fabinho has played in central defence for Liverpool on numerous occasions and even in the big games including a recent imperious display during a 2-0 victory against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last month.
In this formation, the Brazilian will slot in beside Joe Gomez who came off the bench during the Merseyside derby against Everton.
Both players have never been paired together in central defence but the wealth of experience that surrounds both players should give Klopp confidence that Liverpool will be defensively sound once the Reds begin their inaugural Champions League bout of the season.
In midfield, there are two vacated spaces following the injury to Thiago and the shift of positioning to Fabinho.
Georginio Wijnaldum is expected to return to the starting XI after being overlooked in Klopp’s Premier League XI for the first time this season at Goodison Park. Naby Keita has also returned to training following a negative COVID-19 test result and could complete the midfield trident against Ajax.
In attack, Roberto Firmino could warrant a rest having started in three matches for both club and country in the space of a week. Diogo Jota would represent adequate cover in the absence of the Brazilian to complete a front-three alongside Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, who are both well-rested having remained at Melwood during the international break.
Klopp hasn’t deployed three defenders at the back since a memorable 5-1 victory against Brighton at the Amex Stadium back in December 2017.
It was a tactical tweak that focussed on utilising the team’s attacking qualities with both Wijnaldum and Emre Can partnered in defence alongside Dejan Lovren.
Given the attacking qualities of both Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, adding Wijnaldum to the defence could enable both full-backs to get further forward without the risk of Liverpool’s high defensive line being exposed.
In midfield, the dynamic remains the same with Henderson and Keita paired together although the latter will take up more defensive responsibilities than he is used to.
The front-three would also remain the same with Mane deployed as the central attacking focal point.
Champions League Group Fixtures
October 21 (8 pm) – Ajax (A)
October 27 (8 pm) – Midtjylland (H)
November 3 (8 pm) – Atalanta (A)
November 25 (8 pm) – Atalanta (H)
December 1 (8 pm) – Ajax (H)
December 9 (5.55 pm) – Midtjylland (A)