Take-Two – The Foxes
Just six days after dramatically coming from behind to oust Leicester from the Carabao Cup, Liverpool will face their old boss again, this time at the King Power Stadium, in a Premier League matchup where the hosts are coming off a 6-3 Boxing Day embarrassment against Manchester City.
Who is available?
At a time when Leicester City probably needs time on the training ground to work things out, they will be thrust into a difficult game against an opponent working on three times as much rest and not in any particular need of rotation.
Indeed – Fabinho, Jones, and Van Dijk have just returned to training following a period of Covid isolation, bolstering the squad; and although Keita, Mane, and Salah (available for the Leicester and Chelsea games) are scheduled to depart shortly for a month or so to play in the AFCON, the Reds will have plenty of options to choose from.
One player who won’t be in the next two games is Andy Robertson! Under FA rules, players picking up suspensions through multiple Yellow Cards face competition-specific suspensions. However, suspensions from Red Cards count towards the next domestic match(es) regardless of competition. This has seen Robertson miss a Carabao Cup encounter and if they go ahead on schedule, he’ll be out for the matches against Leicester and Chelsea as well.
And it gets more complicated during January! As mentioned above Liverpool will lose its three African players for five to seven games each. They will be unavailable for the League Cup Semifinals (both legs), the FA Cup third round (and likely fourth round), as well as the league games against Brentford and Crystal Palace. Add in the possibility of playing a Boxing Day make-up against Leeds and our African trio could rack up a combined 21 game absence.
The tough thing for Liverpool will be the concentration positionally. Both Mane and Salah regularly feature together on the front line and the side won’t relish having to make it work with just Firmino and Jota as automatic starters while Klopp fiddles with the best choice to partner them. Minamino and Origi are the only other established striking options so we might see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Neco Williams pushed into cameo roles up top as well.
Covering the Midfield
Midfield is easier to cover! The side has more options and Keita is not an automatic starting choice. With Curtis Jones ready to return to action and Harvey Elliott not far away the Manager will have options to supplement his main four players for three midfield spots.
The larger concern about the AFCON may be players contracting Covid and possibly bringing it home! The temporary nature of the international camps at a tournament is nowhere near as practiced at containing such a situation and all club sides will have to be aware of the possibility of additional quarantines.
Producing a side good enough to beat Arsenal, who would be expected to put out their “A” team, will be January’s biggest challenge. The FA Cup fixtures on the other hand will allow players who need the opportunity to show what they can do on the stage to do it on. Konate and Williams are too good not to be getting regular starting spots while Morton will develop with more exposure. The latter in particular is a little undercooked to be carrying a full load against a side like Spurs (or upcoming Chelsea), but can flourish in the FA Cup ties. Ultimately Liverpool will have to gauge at the end of the season if an inevitable season-long loan will be to a Championship outfit, or if he’s progressed enough to play for a lower-end side in the Premier League.
A multiple trophy season?
All in all, the club personnel situation looks good and seems well-positioned to continue to challenge for honors. Arsenal will be tough though because they don’t have European football, don’t have games backlogged, and are playing well with a squad that doesn’t need much rotation. However, Liverpool would probably be the favorite in the final if they can get past them.
Likewise keeping up with Manchester City for the League Title is a climbable mountain. The Citizens are scoring and winning relentlessly. Liverpool is capable of matching this but there is almost no room for error. A win in the return match is probably an LFC necessity.
Liverpool does remain a strong contender for a seventh Champions League. Favorites to advance to the Quarter Finals Klopp’s Reds are a match for anyone else who can get there, and this club knows how to show up big in two-leg ties.
The FA Cup – well we’re just getting started. As we’re reaching the halfway mark of the season it’s all pointing to an exciting run down the stretch. It’s the good times at Anfield, fasten your seat belt.