Liverpool v Augsburg
Jurgen Klopp has a dilemma on his hands. Tomorrow Liverpool play Augsburg in the second leg of their Europa League tie. Next up is a double header against Manchester City, first in the Capital One Cup Final and then in the Premier League.
Klopp has said he sees the winning the Europa League as the only way the Reds can get into the Champions League next season, so you think he would focus on that. But, the Capital One Cup presents an opportunity for the German manager to win his first piece of silverware with his new club.
So which players does he play in which game? Luckily, he has had some big name players return to the fold.
Daniel Sturridge is back and has featured in the last three matches. Philippe Coutinho is back and Klopp will be pleased to be able to play these two alongside Roberto Firmino who is slowly becoming the player his 29 million pound price tag promised.
The question is, does he play his best side against Augsburg? Or does he rest some in preparation for the Cup Final? Does he risk disrupting the rhythm these players have begun to develop in the last three matches by chopping and changing?
When I say rhythm, I don’t mean they were completely pitch perfect. In the first leg against Augsburg, he played arguably his best available team, but the match fizzled out into the most Europa League game you’ve ever seen. But there’s something to be said for continuity and what it does for a team, especially those returning from injury. On the other hand, it can become slightly problematic as the returning players aren’t fully match fit and may risk re-injuring themselves.
The other question is the midfield. Klopp doesn’t seem completely decided on his first choice midfield combination, except that Emre Can is part of it. Recently, he has been paired with Jordan Henderson – a player who looks far short of his capabilities now that he must continue to playwith a foot injury in order to rupture it.
James Milner is another option to pair with Can, but his passing in the middle of the pitch leaves a lot to be desired. He’s also been providing a lot more thrust on whichever flank he plays on and certainly makes things happen when he’s in the final third.
Besides playing one of the youngsters we have seen recently, the final option is Lucas Leiva. I’m a huge fan of Lucas, and have not forgotten the season he had under Roy Hodgson/Kenny Dalglish where he was the best defensive midfielder in the league. He is still proficient at stealing in to win possession in front of attackers but his powers to appear to be on the wane. Whether his excellent defensive heading ability is enough to pick him for either game, I’m not sure.
Klopp will most likely ride the line between the two extremes. He will probably want to win the Augsburg match early on with a couple goals and then look to make some substitutions to increase the amount of rest some get before going to Wembley. That will see all three of Sturridge, Coutinho and Firmino start alongside Milner with Can and Henderson in midfield. As long as the Reds are in front against the German side, expect to see them substituted for squad players such as Jordan Ibe, Divock Origi and Christian Benteke.
Going into the League Cup Final, Klopp will clearly remember the 1-4 league defeat of Manchester City in the early part of his reign. He may be tempted to start that match in the same way with Firmino as a False 9/10 to help crowd the midfield and encourage midfield runners beyond the Brazilian.
As manager, there is a danger in tying yourself up in knots worrying about who should play when. Klopp will relish finally having over a week to train his squad after not being involved in the FA Cup over the weekend. He made have had a little extra time to think about it too…