Jurgen Klopp has made an impossible decision at Liverpool as the uncomfortable truth of Man City emerges
As Liverpool’s quest for an unprecedented treble continues, Jurgen Klopp’s side have never looked stronger.
Having already won the League Cup, the Reds are currently one point behind Man City in the Premier League title race and will face Benfica in the Champions League quarter-finals after Friday’s draw, with a clash in the semi-finals with Villarreal or Bayern Munich on hold. the winner. Meanwhile, Sunday’s trip to Nottingham Forest leaves them 90 minutes from the FA Cup semi-finals and a second trip to Wembley of the year.
Boasting quality options all over the park, Liverpool are inevitably benefiting from remaining relatively injury-free since the January transfer window closed, with the mid-season arrival of Luis Diaz from FC Porto only further bolstering the Klopp options. The Colombia international means the German has seven forwards to choose from, while Harvey Elliott’s winter return after a dislocated ankle has reduced the Reds’ midfield quota to eight senior options.
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Meanwhile, the arrival of Ibrahima Konate has provided Liverpool with four high-calibre centre-backs following the injury crisis that derailed their campaign last year, while Caoimhin Kelleher and Kostas Tsimikas have repeatedly shown their quality during the season as a substitute. in goal and at left-back respectively.
Still, if there was one position the Reds would most like to avoid injury, and where they lack a natural replacement, it is right-back. And not just because they loaned Neco Williams to Fulham in January. Unfortunately for Klopp and for Liverpool, this is now exactly the predicament they face after Trent Alexander-Arnold was ruled out for ‘weeks’ with a hamstring injury.
The England international is arguably the best right-back in the world and, such is his importance to the Reds, virtually impossible to replace anyway. Klopp admitted as much as he confirmed the defender’s layoff in his final pre-match press conference.
“It’s tricky, we’ll see how long it takes,” the German told reporters. “Replacing Trent is difficult but possible. We have always done it. We have Milly when he is no longer sick, we have Joe obviously, theoretically we can change the system too. We have a few options but he is very influential.
“But if you look in the past when Milly had to step in, he’s done incredibly well. Incredibly well, he just has to be available and then it’s okay. How Milly will be for Sunday, I don’t know at is not the case, we may have a very young solution that also suits Joey.
“We’ll take a look, but given the way he plays, I don’t know any player in the world who plays like Trent, so it would be difficult to find a one-on-one replacement.”
Klopp was unable to offer a precise timescale on Alexander-Arnold’s absence, other than excluding the 23-year-old from the Reds’ clash with Nottingham Forest and international duty for England . Whether he will indeed miss ‘weeks’ rather than months could leave him in doubt for Liverpool’s home clash with Watford, the trip to Man City and the Champions League quarter-final against Benfica this month. next, if not more.
The Reds have options in store, with vice-captain James Milner, Joe Gomez and Conor Bradley all potential assistants. However, the latter is yet to make his Premier League debut while the former duo prefer to play elsewhere and are not natural replacements, leaving a prolonged absence for Alexander-Arnold less than ideal.
From the German’s latest comments, it looks like Milner will be the go-to substitute in the right-back’s absence for as long as it takes. The veteran replaced the defender against Crystal Palace, Porto and Man City in September and October, and also started at the back in the FA Cup fifth round against Norwich City.
However, he was subjected to a particularly torrid night against Pep Guardiola’s side as the Reds were twice knocked out and held to a 2-2 draw. Tormented by Phil Foden throughout as City targeted their former player, Milner failed to earn a tackle, committed three fouls and was booked for a desperate lunge on the England international.
Meanwhile, it was Foden who scored City’s first equalizer that day after heading away from Milner at the far post, while Guardiola would be enraged moments later as the Liverpool vice-captain had the chance to avoid a second booking for a challenge on Bernardo Silva as Mohamed Salah’s surge restored the Reds’ lead. He would be replaced minutes later when Gomez took his place.
Gomez was actually first choice for Liverpool when they last traveled to Man City in November 2020, with added importance placed on his shoulders too after Virgil van Dijk suffered a season-ending ACL injury. However, the 24-year-old would see his own campaign end with a serious knee injury on international duty in the same month.
He has since fallen to fourth in the Reds’ central defender pecking order, behind Van Dijk, Joel Matip and Ibrahima Konate, after returning last summer. As a result, his current campaign has never really taken off, with the defender making just 14 appearances and starting only one of his five Premier League outings.
Left out of the matchday squads on several occasions, including the League Cup final last month, he played just one minute of Premier League football in his favorite centre-back role this season, with Klopp using him more as a right-back when turned. for. As a result, speculation over his future has persisted, with the likes of Real Madrid, Aston Villa, Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham United, Everton and Fulham all linked to his services in recent months as he contemplates his future. before that. Winter World Cup in Qatar.
Still, Gomez is set to start against Nottingham Forest on Sunday, as well as at centre-back, as Klopp rotates his squad ahead of the March international break. And while minutes in his favorite role will remain limited for the remainder of the season, given Milner’s previous struggles at Man City and with that Etihad title decider looming, should Klopp reconsider and allow the absence of Alexander-Arnold to really open the door for the defender to finally claim his place in his starting XI?
The German has actually used Gomez at right-back against Man City a number of times in the past with success, with him starting past a then-teenaged Alexander-Arnold to help secure a 4-3 win in January 2018 before moving on. get the green light again. ahead of his compatriot the following October for a 0-0 draw.
Since then, Alexander-Arnold’s development has meant that Klopp hasn’t considered dropping him against Pep Guardiola’s side. However, now that Liverpool are faced with the prospect of having to fight for the top spot in the Premier League without him, the German has a decision to make.
He’s not wrong when he claims Milner has done ‘incredibly well’ when turning to right-back in the past, he just didn’t do it against Man City. Although the 36-year-old can match Alexander-Arnold’s crossing abilities as Liverpool look to play the same, he simply doesn’t have the pace to pocket Guardiola’s tricky forwards.
His inclusion almost cost the Reds dearly when they welcomed City to Anfield in October, perhaps a more conservative approach is needed. As Gomez waits in the wings and finally looks to kick off his season, he could still play a big part in the Reds’ title challenge, even if he ends up moving on this summer.
It might jeopardize Klopp’s beliefs since he took his team to elite level, and even feel uncomfortable fielding a more defensive side, but on this occasion, with so much riding during their trip to the Etihad next month, he may have no choice but to bring back his old tactics.
As the German says, replacing Alexander-Arnold is simply impossible. With Watford and Benfica offering opportunities to now familiarize their replacement right-back with such a role if the defender stays out, perhaps the answer on this occasion is not trying to replace him at all as Liverpool are plotting how to take advantage of the Prime Minister. League title race.