For Jurgen Klopp, the Liverpool boss is finally blessed with a number of welcomed selection headaches ahead of the gargantuan clash with Manchester United on Sunday.
The English champions have been forced to navigate their way through an injury-ravaged campaign so far this term. Despite having the bulk of their squad decimated in recent months, Liverpool still see themselves atop the Premier League summit.
Indeed, results haven’t been perfect as of late, with Liverpool claiming just one point from the previous nine on offer.
But with the biggest match of the season on the horizon, Klopp finally has a number of luxuries that have been missing all season.
For one, Liverpool have the essence of time. A nine-day period to plan and strategise a plan to overcome one of the club’s biggest title rivals in 2020/21.
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There are a number of big decisions Klopp will have to consider before January 17, however, there is one risk the manager simply cannot avoid come Sunday.
The Matip/Manchester United conundrum
As it stands, Joel Matip is in a race against time for the fixture. With that in mind, the Cameroonian defender is too big a miss not to have in the team, should he be made available.
As a result, the big call, then, would be to pair Matip alongside Fabinho at the heart of Liverpool’s defence.
On the other hand, Klopp was wise to play down any suggestions that the 29-year-old defender will be fit in time.
“Until the United game we still have around nine days, so we try,” he said, as per The ECHO. “He is in a good way but if it will be United or a few days later, I don’t know.”
Liverpool, then, will be working overtime to ensure the injury-prone defender is ready for the top-of-the-table title bout. His involvement could dramatically shape the outcome of the match, after all.
The fact Klopp was forced to utilise Jordan Henderson in defence against Southampton proves as such. Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips, then, are yet to fully convince the manager, it would seem.
With that said, Matip’s inclusion in the starting XI becomes all the more important. When called upon, the former Schalke defender has been a top performer all season.
The issue at hand, however, isn’t Matip’s quality, but rather his durability. He has started just seven of Liverpool’s 17 PL matches this term, after all.
Still, when you consider the magnitude of Liverpool’s next match, Matip is too significant not to feature.
Indeed, Williams has stepped up in big matches such as the 2-1 win against Tottenham last month. He, then, could feature if Matip isn’t able to return in time.
However, given Liverpool’s recent form and their inability to hold down a sustained defensive partner for Fabinho, the inclusion of Matip becomes all the more vital.
Remarkably, Liverpool haven’t lost in the Premier League with Matip in the starting XI since January 2018 (Swansea away).
Also, it was exactly this time two years ago when Matip last demonstrated he remain durable for a significant period of the season.
During the second half of the 2018/19 campaign, Matip started 14 of Liverpool’s final 16 league matches of the season. The two of which he missed, were for rotational purposes in Champions League matches against Barcelona.
This showcases there is still cause to believe Matip can remain durable for the remainder of the season. Indeed, it is a big ask, but given Liverpool’s limited defensive options, it’s the best Klopp can hope for at this present moment.
Given Liverpool’s ability to turn up the style in the big matches, United could represent the perfect opportunity to throw Matip back into the fore.
He has never lost against the Red Devils while a Liverpool player, after all.