With Liverpool set to face Manchester United in the Europa League last-16 first-leg tie at Anfield on Thursday, we look at three key selection posers for both managers to consider.
The two great rivals will be meeting one for the 195th – and United have had the edge over the years having claimed 79 wins, to Liverpool’s 64, while there have been 51 draws.
Here, we ponder three major selection posers for both managers to consider.
The make-up of the forward line
Having been rested at the weekend at Selhurst Park, Daniel Sturridge looks a certainty to be recalled to the central striking role. Klopp will no doubt have the Plan B option of Christian Benteke on the bench, but it’s the trio behind Sturridge which the Reds boss will have to ponder carefully.
Assuming fitness isn’t in question, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino – the latter of whom has been involved in more goals (either by assisting or scoring them) than any other Premier League player in 2016 – look certainties to start. But what of the third player? Adam Lallana has very much been a central figure in Klopp’s thinking since taking charge at Anfield, but despite three goals in his last five games for the Reds, questions remain over his ability to turn it on the big games.
James Milner played on the right of the three against Palace – but will the midfield stalwart be punished for carelessly picking up two yellow cards – or could Klopp throw a surprise into the works and ask the ever-improving Divock Origi to take one of the forward roles to keep United on their toes?
Jordon Ibe remains another option, and despite his recent impressive display against Man City at Anfield, the best he can hope for is likely to be a place on the bench.
Does Klopp trust Moreno?
With Jon Flanagan back to fitness, Klopp now has more options available to him in the full-back positions. In the recent 3-0 win over Manchester City at Anfield, the German opted to rest Alberto Moreno, with Clyne filling in at left-back and Flanagan at right-back.
Moreno was brought back into the side that won at Palace over the weekend, but doubts remain over the Spaniard’s reliability in the games that matter and he had something of a stinker in the Capital One Cup final, with the former Sevilla star coming in for criticism from Jamie Carragher.
With Flanagan ineligible in the Europa League, does Klopp have any choice other than to stick with Moreno at left-back?
Central midfield pairing
With Lucas currently nursing an unusual injury and facing a six-week lay-off, Klopp’s options in the middle of the park have been slightly limited. Emre Can and Jordan Henderson look to be the favoured options for Klopp, and it’s quite likely he’ll stick with those two in the engine room.
Certainly Can’s performances have improved of late, and with his growing authority in the centre of the park, he probably looks first choice for Klopp at the moment. Henderson is another who works hard, but the Reds captain still has has critics and is arguably yet to recapture his best form this season amid claims he struggles with a problematic heel injury.
Milner could present another option for Liverpool in the centre of the park and his industry would certainly be welcomed against United, where its likely he’ll be in direct competition with Michael Carrick and Morgan Schneiderlin.
Joe Allen is a fourth option available to Klopp, but the Welshman is rarely trusted in the games that matter .
Leave out Rashford?
Teenage striker Marcus Rashford has started the last four games since being thrust into the spotlight a fortnight ago but Van Gaal’s tactics will decide whether or not that run of games comes to a halt.
Rashford, like all his team-mates, toiled at West Brom on Sunday, alternating with Anthony Martial between a central striker’s role and a wide berth. Van Gaal will have to shuffle his front four due to the suspension of Jesse Lingard and his line up will depend on his preference for pace or possession at Anfield.
Ander Herrera played in a central role during United’s 1-0 win at Liverpool in January and the Spaniard could be given the same job again. That would dislodge Juan Mata, who could be shifted to the right to cover for Lingard. What then does Van Gaal do with Anthony Martial?
The France forward could remain on the left with Rashford through the middle, or Memphis Depay may be brought back in, with Martial employed as the central striker. Just as Depay seemed to be gaining some confidence, he was dropped by Van Gaal at The Hawthorns. Whoever Van Gaal selects on the left will have a defensive job up against either Nathaniel Clyne or Jon Flanagan. Arguably, Martial has shown more discipline than Depay, which may mean Rashford making his fifth consecutive start.
Schneiderlin to return
The only plausible explanation for dropping Schneiderlin at West Brom is because Van Gaal was saving him for Anfield.
United have been beaten in only eight per cent of 26 matches the midfield battler has started, whereas the Red Devils have suffered defeat in eight of the eighteen games he has not been in the XI – almost 44 per cent.
At Anfield, Schneiderlin’s work-rate and defensive nous will be required to get among Liverpool’s creative talents, most notably Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino. Michael Carrick and his partner will rarely stray further than spitting distance from their centre-halves at Anfield, making Schneiderlin the only man for the job.
The Dutch midfielder-turned-defender has had a fine season but a very ropey week. To call his performance against Watford an ‘off-night’ would be kind, while it was Blind who lost Salomon Rondon for the only goal at West Brom on Sunday.
Blind’s recent struggles are understandable when you consider that he has played more minutes than any other United player. His performances and Van Gaal’s injury concerns have meant few opportunities to give Blind a break and it is starting to show.
Marcos Rojo could step into the middle, with Matteo Darmian going to the left and Guillermo Varela restored to the right-back slot.
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