Jurgen Klopp has commented on the prospected of Joel Matip and Joe Gomez starting in central defence together for the first time in the Liverpool manager’s tenure.
Remarkably, in the 35 different centre-back combinations, Klopp has utilised since taking charge in 2015, both defenders have never featured together. This could change when Liverpool host Sheffield United tonight at Anfield.
The Reds boss was forced to drop Fabinho into the heart of defence to partner Gomez for their Champions League victory over Ajax in midweek as Klopp looks to fill the defensive void left by the club’s most transformative signing of the modern era.
Cameroonian defender Matip and England international Gomez are currently Klopp’s only available naturally-suited senior central defensive options and both have a worrying track record with injury.
In fact, Matip, 29, only recently contributed his first 90-minute performance for Liverpool in over 12 months against Everton last week and was forced to undergo a muscle scan after the match which subsequently ruled him out for the Ajax clash.
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Ahead of Liverpool’s Anfield clash with Chris Wilder’s side, Klopp revealed that he had previously been unaware that both Matip and Gomez had never been paired centrally together and acknowledged that both of them, plus Fabinho, will be able to step up to the mark without ‘a shadow of a doubt’.
“The reason for [why they never played together] is because I think Virg played pretty much all the games and one of them was injured,” he told to club’s official website. “As long as Dejan Lovren was still here and Dejan was in that moment fit [he could play].
“I didn’t know they had never played together, I didn’t know that, but they can play together – not a shadow of a doubt. As I said for the Fabinho and Joe pairing, they need to get used to each other and the full-backs need to get used to them.
“The more stability you have in this line, the better. We never had that really, especially one position was always with a lot of changes. They will fight together, there is no doubt about that.
“It is football and it didn’t become rocket science overnight. We can help them with information but then they will get tested every three days, that’s the situation.”
The next challenge for Klopp
Klopp is a big believer in his players and such faith was vindicated in Liverpool’s best defensive performance of the season against Ajax on Wednesday.
Fabinho and Gomez were equally busy from a defensive viewpoint and both were well positioned on countless occasions to keep the Ajax threat at bay.
Without Van Dijk, watching from home with his knee in a brace, Europe wanted to know how the Reds would cope. Klopp maintained that his team would deal with any setback thrown their direction, that they would silence the doubters in the only way they know how to – with results.
Under the microscopic scope of the media look at their every move, those two – and Andy Robertson, who was exceptional at left-back – stood out by a country mile.
The next challenge for Klopp is how does he effectively and efficiently rotate between his three available central defensive options?
The Liverpool boss confirmed on Tuesday that Joel Matip was ‘in contention’ to feature against Sheffield United which could see the Cameroonian international recalled to the starting XI at the weekend.
Both Matip and Gomez have had their injury struggles in the past, if Klopp is going to keep them both fit until the January transfer window opens, regular rotation is going to play a huge factor.
For all the discussion looking at how severely Liverpool would struggle without Van Dijk, as responses go from Liverpool’s remaining defensive cover, this was an emphatic response.
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