At no point this season has it seemed like Liverpool have had all their best players available. A “back injury” for Coutinho, a suspension and a pulled hamstring for Mane and a lengthy injury to Lallana meant that players in the starting XI were moved around to accommodate for the missing names. The biggest area to take a hit due to injuries was the midfield, whilst we could still field a strong three of Henderson, Can and Wijnaldum it didn’t feel like there was enough creativity in there to split a defence and on the two occasions where Coutinho was chosen to drop deeper the club found themselves in a rut that was difficult to play out of.
Jurgen Klopp should hopefully have all first-team players available for selection when we welcome Southampton to Anfield on Saturday. Mane has been sent back to Melwood to treat a reoccurring hamstring problem but there are conflicting reports with regards to its severity and there is still a chance that it was a precaution and that he will be okay for the weekend. Coutinho is set to feature against England and Klopp has already confirmed that Lallana will be back after the international fixtures; so where do all these players fit into the regular 4-3-3 formation?
Chances are Lallana will feature from the bench against his old club, three months out means that a full 90 minutes would be a tough ask and neither Can or Wijnaldum did an awful lot wrong against West Ham. One of them will be facing the drop should Coutinho feature for Brazil however, for whom will be up to the manager to decide; with the little magician being one of the club’s best players he has to play as much as possible and a win against Southampton will ensure Liverpool’s momentum continues going into two big games against Sevilla and Chelsea.
Going forward, Liverpool are in a position where they have two players who can easily fill in for each role in the forward six. Milner/Can/Henderson can play in the six, any of Coutinho/Lallana/Can/Wijnaldum/Milner could play in midfield whilst any of Mane, Salah, Firmino, Coutinho, Sturridge, Solanke and Oxlade-Chamberlain can play in the front three. Liverpool could field two completely different sets of six players and both would be more than capable of getting a result.
Fortunately, the amount of games we play this season and inevitable injuries means that everyone will get enough game time over the course of the season. There is a lot of debate going around about what Liverpool’s strongest XI would be and whilst they might not be too popular with some of the fanbase at the moment in my opinion one of Wijnaldum or Can should be starting. The popular choice would be Coutinho and Lallana in-front of the number six but that fields an unnecessarily attacking side for a team that has defensive issues. To keep a balanced midfield I would opt for one creative midfielder (Lallana or Coutinho) and one box to box midfielder (Can, Wijnaldum or even Milner). Lallana showed glimpses of being capable in a box to box role but defensively I don’t think he is as solid as the other choices.
The only times where a midfield of Henderson, Coutinho and Lallana could be a viable option is when we come up against teams who set out to sit back and frustrate the attack for 90 minutes. Huge majorities of possession and chances mean that there wouldn’t be as much of a focus on keeping the opposition out so giving the opponents one more dangerous player to think about could create more space for clear-cut opportunities.
Realistically, Lallana might find himself on the bench more than he expected as he looks to force himself into the team.
The current midfield has divided opinion so far this season, but you’re only as good as your last game; in which every player on the pitch really put in a shift to secure a great result against an albeit sloppy West Ham side. Klopp really puts a lot of faith in his players and might decide that the side who started at the London Stadium should get the chance to repeat that performance at Anfield on Saturday. It wouldn’t come as a shock to many if the side remained unchanged given the two important fixtures coming up, with so many players coming back from injury it might be best to keep them for Sevilla or Chelsea and have them on the bench in-case it goes wrong against Southampton.
Overall, this is the strongest Liverpool team in years in terms of squad depth. Jurgen Klopp is on the way to building a team that can compete on all fronts and won’t be rocked by an injury to a big player. There is no better time to see this squad at its full capacity with a flurry of games coming in December and January with the squad looking to bring silverware to the club for the first time in five years.