In one of the most crucial weeks in Liverpool Football Club’s recent history, Jurgen Klopp has some tough choices to make as he sets his Reds up for a Champions League semi-final clash with the mighty Barcelona tonight.
Liverpool travelled to Spain on Tuesday afternoon and the good news was that Brazilian internationals, Roberto Firmino and Fabinho, both travelled with the team.
Firmino missed Liverpool’s 5-0 win over Huddersfield last Friday night due to a minor muscle tear but hopes are high that he will make the starting lineup for the Camp Nou.
Speaking about Firmino’s situation, Klopp told Liverpoolfc.com:
“We all knew from the beginning it would be a race [to have Firmino fit for the Barcelona game].
“We don’t have to make a decision today because there’s no game today, we can wait.
“It looked good so far but until tomorrow I have to make that decision – after lunchtime tomorrow. That’s what I will do.”
The Reds’ midfielder Fabinho also missed the Huddersfield game after suffering a head injury just two minutes after coming on in the 2-0 win over Cardiff City the previous Sunday. However, it appears Fabinho is back to full fitness now and available for selection in Spain.
Klopp confirmed that Fabinho is 100% ready and was almost fit to play in the Huddersfield game five days ago.
“Every human being needs time and he [Fabinho] needed that time, but it was already three or four days ago; if the Huddersfield game would have been a day later he could have played, but it was just impossible for that game. But it’s OK.”
With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also returning to action last week after a year’s absence, Klopp has a very strong 23-man squad with him in Barcelona. Adam Lallana is the only notable name missing from the travelling contingent.
Regarding tonight’s lineup, Klopp’s toughest decisions will once again be in relation to the midfield trio.
In defence, Dejan Lovren put in a comfortable performance on Friday night with Klopp deciding to rest Joel Matip. It’s likely, then, that Matip will be Virgil van Dijk’s partner in the centre of defence against Barcelona.
Lovren seems to have settled into a backup role at Anfield and Joe Gomez still has not started a game since returning from his fractured ankle injury which happened at Burnley in early December.
Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson will be on either side of the defence. It will be interesting to see the mindset they start the game with. Both are hugely effective attacking full-backs but will need to be more alert defensively tonight as well.
Alexander-Arnold will most likely be dealing with Philippe Coutinho and Jordi Alba down his side while Robertson and Van Dijk will have the small matter of dealing with one Lionel Messi for 90 minutes.
Sergi Roberto or Nelson Semedo will be at right-back for Barcelona. Semedo, in particular, is very good on the ball and will be able to help Messi ‘double-up’ on Robertson at every given opportunity.
Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané will form the usual frontline for Liverpool. I think Firmino will 100% start, barring some extra setback today.
It’s going to be hugely exciting to see just what trouble they can cause Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet at the back.
That leaves the midfield for Klopp to decide upon. With James Milner, Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum, Fabinho and Naby Keita to choose from, it’s a hard one to call.
Xherdan Shaqiri and Oxlade-Chamberlain are also options but Shaqiri has only been used in cameo roles in 2019 while The Ox is nowhere near fit enough to start a competitive fixture yet.
My feeling is that Klopp will opt for the same midfield that impressed us all so much in the first leg of the quarter-final against FC Porto at Anfield – Fabinho, Henderson and Keita.
That trio was also massive in Liverpool’s 2-0 Premier League win over Chelsea five days after that Porto game.
Fabinho has shown himself to be the almost-perfect fulcrum at the base of Liverpool’s midfield. One of the most important aspects of Fabinho’s presence in the team is his ability to free up others in front of him as he can be relied upon to do what’s expected of him when called upon. See Jordan Henderson and Naby Keita for examples.
Henderson, since returning to a more advanced midfield role, has reminded us of just what he offered in that 2013/14 season. With Fabinho behind him, Henderson has the freedom to push forward and some of his passing and assists in recent weeks have been nothing short of excellent.
Also, Keita has really come into form for The Reds and shown the world exactly why Klopp was willing to splash the big money on the former RB Leipzig star.
Keita’s energy and effective, smart-pressing makes him a priceless asset in the Liverpool midfield. He is exactly what is needed to get in the faces of Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic on the hallowed Camp Nou turf tonight.
Strap yourselves in because it’s going to be an absolute belter.
Predicted Liverpool lineup vs Barcelona tonight: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Henderson(c), Keita; Salah Firmino, Mané
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