Klopp’s delicate balancing act as Liverpool chases trophies

Not many expected Liverpool to be challenging for the English Premier League title this season, let alone be the only English team still in the running to win four trophies.

It revamped its midfield with Alexis Mac Allister, Dominik Szoboszlai, Wataru Endo, and Ryan Gravenberch for £145 million after selling Jordan Henderson and Fabinho, and releasing Naby Keita, James Milner, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Most fans would have been happy with a top-four finish and a couple of cup runs. Still, Liverpool finds itself on top of the EPL, ahead of Aston Villa, Manchester City, and Arsenal, in the semifinals of the League Cup against Fulham, and the knockout stage of the Europa League.

On Monday (12.30am), it travels to London to face Arsenal in the third round of the world’s oldest football competition – the FA Cup.

The tie comes three days before the first leg of the League Cup semifinals, leaving Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp with a headache – with injuries piling up and without top scorer Mohamed Salah and midfielder Wataru Endo – away for the African Cup of Nations and Asian Cup – he must decide if he should go all out against Arsenal, or focus on the first leg of the League Cup semifinals against Fulham a few days later.

Liverpool is without a recognised leftback following injuries to Andy Robertson and Kostas Tsimika, and down a centreback with Joel Matip ruled out for the season. It is also without three midfielders – Szoboszlai, Thiago Alcantara, and Stefan Bajcetic – and young forward Ben Doak.

That leaves Klopp with four experienced players each in defence, midfield, and attack, with young centreback Jarrel Quansah adding some depth.

Liverpool has recalled on-loan defenders Nathaniel Phillips (Celtic), Owen Beck (Dundee), Rhys Williams (Aberdeen), and midfielders Fabio Carvalho (Leipzig), and James Balagizi (Wigan).

Of the quintet, Beck is the most likely to get game time, with Phillips likely to remain, while Williams and Carvalho may go on loan again. Balagizi is carrying an injury.

So, does Klopp shuffle his deck with a couple of youngsters, or play the kids against Arsenal and focus on Fulham?

The difference is that Arsenal is one of a potential five matches before the FA Cup final, while Liverpool is just two games – the League Cup is a home-and-away semifinal tie – from reaching Wembley.

After Fulham, Liverpool has an 11-day break before next playing in the league – unless the match against Arsenal ends in a tie, in which case it would only have three or four days of rest between matches.

So, Klopp has some big decisions to make, as he knows the priority must be the EPL. He cannot afford any more injuries and must be wary of burnout – Soboszlai’s hamstring injury came after he played all 20 league matches and 26 games in total.

There is also a case of players losing momentum if they do not play often. It will be interesting to see Klopp’s line-up on Monday morning.

FA Cup 3rd Round (Malaysian time, selected fixtures)

Sunderland vs Newcastle (8.45pm)
Stoke vs Brighton (11pm)
Gillingham vs Sheffield United (11pm)
Queens Park Rangers vs Bournemouth (11pm)

Chelsea vs Preston (1.30am)
Middlesbrough vs Aston Villa (1.30am)
West Ham vs Bristol (10pm)
Nottingham Forest vs Blackpool (10pm)
Luton vs Bolton (10pm)
Manchester City vs Huddersfield (10pm)

Arsenal vs Liverpool (12.30am)

Wigan vs Manchester United (4.15am)