Klopp's Midfield Dilemma Ahead of Crystal Palace Clash
At long last, there is genuine depth in Liverpool’s midfield.
The Reds are no longer praying for certain players to stay fit and there are now six or seven reliable, experienced figures who can be effective whenever required.
This was perfectly illustrated during Sunday’s 4-0 victory over West Ham, as Jurgen Klopp’s men got their season off to a perfect start without even hitting top gear.
As the starting lineups were announced and we all huddled around our devices like children on Christmas Eve, there was no Fabinho or Jordan Henderson in the team.
There was no reason to feel remotely concerned, though, especially in comparison to years gone by, when anything other than a full-strength XI has felt disastrous.
Naby Keita shone on his debut, showing us exactly what he is going to bring to this increasingly fun party, with delightful touches, intelligent moves and non-stop running on show.
Both Gini Wijnaldum and James Milner also excelled, as they did in the latter stages of last season, more than justifying their selection.
Wijnaldum caught the eye as a No.6, proving that he is a more than capable option in the role moving forward, while Milner continued his influential run of form that has been evident throughout 2018.
He will be 45 and still be the fittest player at Liverpool!
Both Fabinho and Henderson are going to play prominent roles for the Reds in the weeks and months to come, though, and the midfield pair will be desperate to play a part in the Reds’ next outing and get their respective seasons up and running.
That takes place on Monday evening, as they make the trip south to Crystal Palace in what is never a particularly enjoyable game, even if Liverpool have won on their last four visits there.
Under the lights of Selhurst Park, in the Eagles’ first home game of the season, the atmosphere is going to be ferocious and we are going to see what Klopp’s side are made of.
It won’t all be plain sailing, for all Liverpool’s attacking quality and likely dominance on the ball – there will be periods when they have to muck in and get through sticky patches.
We know how the back-line is going to look and the front-three picks itself, but what does Klopp do with his midfield?
Keita is a shoo-in, such is his world-class ability and already unrivalled importance in the middle of the park, but the two players who partner him is a trickier decision for the manager.
In many ways, keeping Wijnaldum and Milner in the team and not upsetting a winning formula makes perfect sense, especially after eight days without a match.
We have seen in the past how key a settled side can be, and with a long season ahead for Liverpool is there any point in throwing Fabinho or Henderson – or both – into battle?
For Fabinho, it would be a testing official debut, while there are still question marks surrounding Henderson’s match fitness, having returned late to pre-season after his World Cup commitments with England.
This isn’t a routine home game against relegation fodder – this is arguably the toughest away fixture outside the top six, with Everton also in the mix because of the derby element.
Palace are a team capable of bullying opponents physically, however, which is where Fabinho and Henderson suddenly look more inviting options than Wijnaldum and Milner.
Both are tall, aggressive figures who will add aerial presence to the side – Fabinho won 3.2 aerial battles per game last season – as well as bite in the tackle, which could negate the threat the hosts pose.
Their ability to break up play and offer the defence more natural cover will surely be in Klopp’s thinking.
That’s not to say Wijnaldum and Milner are pushovers – far from it – but at 5ft9in, neither are the most physically commanding and they would be more at risk of potentially coming unstuck.
With Wijnaldum that feels more likely, given his preference for occasionally going missing away from home, in more intense matches.
Klopp’s summer transfer business has ensured that he is now in a luxurious position with his midfielders, with so many options and a strong-looking unit whoever he picks.
It is a lovely situation to be in and the boss now has to consider who it makes the most sense starting in Liverpool’s midfield for their opening away day of the campaign.
Gut feeling says bring one of Fabinho or Henderson in for Wijnaldum, but it would be tough to argue with the Dutchman retaining his place, as well as Milner.
Who would you go with?