Liverpool’s first game back after the World Cup is in not the Premier League, but the 4th round EFL tie against Manchester City. This game will represent the ideal tune up to the Reds’ Boxing Day visit to Villa Park, and getting Pep Guardiola’s side in the last 16 is the perfect draw for Jurgen Klopp.
Apart from Erling Haaland and a few squad players, most of the Etihad roster is spending this next month at the World Cup. The tournament in Qatar will not see the final played until the 18th of December, a day after the 3rd and 4th place play-off match. With the latter stage rounds being carried out only days prior, this means many key players may not be in contention to participate in the domestic competition, and could create brilliant opportunity for Liverpool.
Thursday evening – on the 22nd December – will see the Reds make their short trip to the Etihad, and based upon the listed players not involved in the World Cup, the away team may be as follows.
The other remaining players include Kostas Tsimikas, Stefan Bajetic, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Diogo Jota, Luis Diaz and Fabio Carvalho. The injuries to Jota & Diaz are thought to be at the back end of recovery, though a start for them in this cup may be too soon. In welcoming back Naby it should allow some flexibility in our shape, and see see a diamond system utilised.
This game represents a strong chance to enter the final eight of the competition. Regardless of Liverpool’s defence of this trophy, there has to be strong choices made when considering its level of importance. This next round will ultimately be a fixture to fine tune those that have had a training camp in Dubai, but future rounds should only be involving fringe assets and those coming back from injury. A top four finish is imperative to how we attack next season, and despite an inconsistent start to this campaign, a Champions League run can still be a reality.
The post Christmas schedule will always bring around the FA Cup, and again this is a domestic trophy that last years double winners will be defending. The fixture list for next year could become relentless once more, and this is a season where levels of play simply have to be managed. I enjoyed seeing more of the squad against Derby County, and I believe it’s important to engage as many as these young players as possible. Kaide Gordon, Stefan Bajetic, Calvin Ramsay, Fabio Carvalho and Ben Doak, are all exciting talents that should be unleashed within these domestic cups. These moments will then allow the first team group to concentrate their assault on both the Premier League & Europe.
We have overplayed, we have underplayed, we have failed to regenerate, and we now have to start making the correct decisions. To have encountered yet another injury (this early season) crisis is alarming, and it means we simply have to manage our loads with more care. Like the majority of our fan base, I want to see glorious cup runs and domestic cup victories, but what I want more to to see this club fighting for the top two competitions. In allowing the FA & EFL cups to become a pathway to the future, we could be giving exactly what we need for the players of today, as well as the prospects of tomorrow.