Is it time for Jurgen Klopp to stick or twist? The FA Cup presents an intriguing team selection dilemma for Liverpool due to the opposition and the timing of the clash.
The Reds’ FA Cup campaign gets underway at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday, six days post-Newcastle and three days before the first leg League Cup semi-final against Fulham.
Not for the first time, Premier League opposition await in the third round of the FA Cup, and it poses the question of how much the manager will look to rotate his side.
He cast doubt over mass changes when speaking to the press on Friday and with limited options due to injury and international absences, it’s easy to see where he was coming from.
So, will Klopp look to go as full strength as possible or make a number of changes?
The manager confirmed we will be without Dominik Szoboszlai for the cup clash, but declared no further issues throughout his squad:
Szoboszlai (hamstring) has “no chance for Sunday,” as well as Wednesday
“Not sure” if Arsenal is “a game to rotate,” says Klopp
Mo Salah and Wataru Endo already departed for international tournaments
Liverpool XI vs. Arsenal
When taking into consideration the quality of the opposition plus what comes next in midweek, rotation was widely expected, though Klopp indicated that might not be possible.
“I’m not sure if Arsenal now is a game to rotate. I sit here I’m not 100 percent if we have the opportunity to do so, to be honest,” the manager told reporters on Friday.
So, if that is the case, we could be looking at a near full strength side for the Reds, minus the likes of Szoboszlai and Salah – as Klopp will know Arsenal can field their best XI.
It would task the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Virgil van Dijk, Ibrahima Konate and Joe Gomez with starting two games in three days, not unheard of but we can ill afford more injuries.
With the midfield down to only four fit senior options and with one of them now required in attack, that selection looks to be pretty straightforward for Klopp:
Alisson in goal with Kelleher expected in League Cup semi-final
Unchanged back four from win over Newcastle
Mac Allister back in XI next to Gravenberch and Jones
Elliott to replace Salah with Jota and Nunez alongside
A near full-strength XI at Arsenal would look like this:
Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Konate, Van Dijk, Gomez; Mac Allister, Jones, Gravenberch; Elliott, Jota, Nunez
On the other hand, Klopp has averaged at least six changes a game throughout the season so far, and seven could be on the cards if he opts for some younger faces.
Conor Bradley could come into consideration at right-back, while Liverpool recalled Owen Beck from loan due to shortages at left-back, and thus he will be a viable option.
It would make for significant changes to the backline if Jarell Quansah was also to come in, though Alisson and Virgil van Dijk could be there to boost the experience levels.
As abovementioned, the midfield all but picks itself, while Cody Gakpo and Luis Diaz are options in attack:
Bradley and Beck to take up roles at full-back
Quansah to 11th start of the season next to the captain
Diaz to start on the left wing and Gakpo in the middle
Those changes would see the Reds shape up as follows:
Alisson; Bradley, Quansah, Van Dijk, Beck; Mac Allister, Jones, Gravenberch; Elliott, Diaz, Gakpo
There is plenty for Klopp to think over as he plots the next week for his side, as he cannot afford any injuries to be picked up on Sunday.
Thankfully, a winter break follows the League Cup semi-final on Wednesday – unless this match ended in a draw and a replay was required – which could be enough recovery time for Szoboszlai.
The manager will know he can’t please everyone with his selections, and only time will tell how he opts to handle this tough FA Cup tie.