The international break is over, and it’s now time for Liverpool to head into the busiest and most crucial spell of the season. It begins with a trip to Vicarage Road to face Watford, who have been one of the surprise packages of the league this season.
For once, the Reds didn’t have too many injury scares from the international break, with only Jordan Henderson returning early thanks to a scare. But Klopp should have a clean bill of health apart from the long-term absentees, although the game in Paris on Wednesday is sure to influence his selection on Saturday night.
Here are some key battles to look forward to – which could decide the final outcome of the game.
CRAIG CATHCART v MOHAMED SALAH
After an inconsistent start to the season, Salah had gotten back into the groove in the last few games before the international break. The Egyptian is firmly settled in a more central role now, which has allowed Xherdan Shaqiri to slot in on the right side.
Salah’s pace is obviously a threat to any defender he comes up against, but beyond that, it’s the intelligence and precision of his movement coupled with the speed that makes him such a difficult player to handle for any defender.
Cathcart himself has had a fabulous start to the season for the Hornets, locking down a spot at the heart of their defence. His task on Sunday will not be easy, given that dealing with players like Salah doesn’t exactly fall under big strengths of his.
Cathcart is a big man who is sound in the air and can bully attackers in physical duels. But he’s not exactly blessed in terms of speed of foot, and that could be his single biggest undoing against Salah.
For the Egyptian, it’ll be important that he uses the half-spaces between Cathcart and Jose Holebas, and also drop into the midfield from time to time, to create doubt in the minds of the Watford defenders.
ABDOULAYE DOUCOURE v GEORGINIO WIJNALDUM
Another international break, another happy time for Wijnaldum with the resurgent Netherlands. But he will come back to Liverpool to play a different role in this Liverpool side.
While Ronald Koeman uses him as the most attacking member of a midfield trident, he’s a lot more entrusted with the defensive duties by Jurgen Klopp. His chief job on Saturday will be to contain the box-to-box capabilities of Watford’s best midfielder.
Doucoure has once again gone from strength to strength, even if he hasn’t had the end-product statistics reading like last season. He makes Javi Gracia’s side tick, with his ability to control the game from the middle of the park.
Wijnaldum’s job won’t just be as the destroyer of what Doucoure tries to do, but also as the link between the defence and the attack. Against a Watford side who will not go gung-ho, and will have a sound defensive shape at all times, Klopp will also need his midfielders to provide attacking thrust.
Wijnaldum has the ability to do that. It’s just that sometimes, it’d be nice if he turned up consistently in away games.
ROBERTO PEREYRA v TRENT ALEXANDER-ARNOLD
Alexander-Arnold is another one for whom the international break brought great joy, as he scored his first goal for England, in the friendly against the USA. He’s not had the happiest time of it off late in a Reds’ shirt though, with a spell that can be best described as inconsistent.
It is now an open secret that he does have a little bit of a problem dealing with inside-forwards, who cut in from the flank, and Pereyra this season has been among the best in the business in the whole league.
It is going to be a difficult test for Trent, but one that he has got more than enough ability to overcome. The best way for Klopp to set up for this one to be to call attack the best form of defence, and ask Alexander-Arnold to get forward at every opportunity to support the attack.
That would also involve trusting Joe Gomez to deal with situations in case of a quick counter-attack, and that is something that he’s shown he’s adept at.
Pereyra recently scored a wonder solo goal against Huddersfield, and in general, has put in a high level of performances, so his confidence will be high. So it’ll be important for Alexander-Arnold to be brave, to trust those around him and do what he does best.