International breaks are the bane of every football fans’ existence. They mark a drab period bereft of football, entertaining football at least, in which clubs are left to sweat over the fitness of their star players amid a crucial league run.
Thankfully for Liverpool, Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and the in-form Andrew Robertson all came through unscathed alongside a number of other first teamers. However, there was one casualty as Joe Gomez faces up to four weeks out with an ankle injury.
That could see the Englishman miss both legs of the Champions League quarter-final against Manchester City, sandwiched in between an equally mouth-watering Merseyside Derby on April 7th.
Although not one of the standout names in Liverpool’s entertaining side, Gomez has proven himself to be a pretty reliable right-back for Jurgen Klopp, raking up 29 appearances this season. He remains susceptible to getting caught under the ball as was the case against Manchester City versus Leroy Sane but will no doubt be missed as we approach the business end of the season.
Assuming the former-Charlton player is side-lined as first thought, the door at right-back will be left wide open for Trent Alexander-Arnold and Nathaniel Clyne to battle it out. Here I give a game-by-game take on who Klopp should opt for.
Crystal Palace: Premier League
The game will more than likely take the form of attack vs defence, with Roy Hodgson’s side setting up as a double decker bus in a desperate attempt to avoid another relegation scrap. That’ll place greater emphasis on the full-backs to offer an avenue of attack, with Alexander-Arnold a great option having proved himself to be a formidable weapon down the right.
A stunning volley in Liverpool’s 5-0 win over Swansea is testament to that, with the 19-year-old unleashing a rocket shot following Mawson’s headed clearance. Gerrard-esque in its purity, Trent’s strike is merely one representation of how he embodies the modern day full-back; able to soar down the flank and another dimension to the attack.
Wilfried Zaha will provide a strong test; another bright, pacy winger who loves to take on his man, much like Rashford did at Old Trafford, but Saturday’s game will no-doubt call for some attacking flair as well. Trent should get the nod, with Clyne ideally featuring off the bench to get another 30 minutes or so under his belt after a ninety minute display for the Under-23’s last week.
Manchester City: Champions League (Both Legs)
Given the magnitude of the contest, I’d opt for the experienced head of Nathaniel Clyne against City. Trent deserves huge credit for his prior performances in the competition, notably a stunning free-kick goal against Hoffenheim, but it’d be huge pressure to place on the shoulders of someone still learning the arts of the game.
The youngster still has plenty of developing to do in a defensive sense, having looked desperately out of his depth in the 5-0 defeat at The Etihad earlier this season – granted none of his teammates fared much better.
Equally suspect in the recent 2-1 defeat to Manchester United, Lovren’s ineptitude left Alexander-Arnold exposed against Marcus Rashford. Allowing the England international to cut inside onto his stronger foot, Trent needed to be far more aggressive in his defending at Old Trafford, in a performance that signalled the frailties still within the 19-year-old’s game.
Of course, throwing Clyne into a Champions League game isn’t ideal given he’s only just returned from a back injury sustained in pre-season. He’s not featured the win over Middlesbrough on the last day of the 2016/17 campaign and 90 minutes for the Under-23’s isn’t comparable to the rigor of a Champions League game.
Yet, Clyne’s experience and defensive solidity saw him transform what has been a hugely problematic position in recent times for Liverpool. He’s got the nous to snuff out the danger; the know-how to play against the very best forwards and the discipline not to go diving in and leave his teammates exposed.
It’s a huge gamble, but one I’d take should see Clyne get some minutes at Selhurst Park this weekend.
Everton: Premier League
Every player wants to be involved in the Derby games; fans are fired up even more than usual with everyone flying into tackles to try and get bragging rights over their closest rivals.
As the only remaining Scouser at the club, this is certainly a game for Trent. Everton will come out true to their manager’s style, parking a double decker bus in front of their own net and looking for any attempt to counter.
That’s the type of game when your full-backs become arguably the most important players on the pitch. We’ve seen how pivotal Andy Robertson has been in breaking down low-block defences this season, registering three assists against Bournemouth, West Ham and Watford with pin-point crosses into the box.
Alexander-Arnold is more than capable of doing the same on the right-hand side, able to roam forward in possession and attack his opposite number with pace. That could well give Liverpool the edge in a game where Sam Allardyce’s drab philosophy threatens to take centre stage.
Assuming Gomez is out for the foreseeable future, the door is wide open for Alexander-Arnold and Clyne to stake a claim at right-back.
Trent’s got the edge in the attacking sense, with his flair likely to be a crucial factor in league games against Crystal Palace and Everton, while the crunch tie with Manchester City in the Champions League seems an affair when experience may prevail.
It’ll be interesting to see what Klopp does – either way will involve a strong element of risk.