Fabinho hands Liverpool transfer chance as Thiago Alcantara takes next step – Liverpool Echo

If the year 2020 was an unforgettable one for those connected to Liverpool, its final days were in stark contrast.

After riding a tidal wave of injury problems and navigating through a fixture pile up, the Premier League champions appeared poised to kick on in the closing stages of the year.

The stranglehold they had held on top spot looked set to be tightened as the champions moved up the gears.

What happened next was unexpected to most, even allowing for what can best be described as the patchy away form of late.

Back-to-back draws against West Brom and Newcastle at the end of December have taken some wind from the sails of Jurgen Klopp’s team.

After a 7-0 hammering of Crystal Palace on December 19, Liverpool looked set to be the star in this season’s title race narrative.

A rare opportunity was squandered by Klopp’s side though, before the likes of Manchester City, United and Leicester gained ground in the New Year.

Momentum halted, for now.

What could have been Liverpool’s crown to lose once more now sees them embroiled in a multi-team title chase for the second half of the campaign.

Crucially, though, Liverpool’s sterling work across October and November keeps them at the summit.

And once more, opportunity presents itself, in the shape of a Monday night in Southampton.

The big decision for Klopp, as is the case this season, is what to do with his centre-back options.

Or rather, what to do with the lack of them.

Fabinho will start the game, unquestionably.

The Brazil midfielder has reinvented himself into one of the finest, ball-playing centre-backs in the Premier League this season.

A year ago, it was the number six who was on the injury list, as the Reds had to solve defensive issues during his absence – a mission that has had to be repeated due to Virgil van Dijk’s own injury.

Fabinho will continue on the south coast but Klopp’s real problem is deciding if he is partnered by Rhys Williams or Nat Phillips.

It is a call the Reds boss must get right as he continues to operate without any recognised senior centre-backs going into the January transfer window.

Liverpool star Mohamed Salah

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That is surely the only selection dilemma from a back five that will have Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson and Alisson Becker in it.

Nat Phillips started at Newcastle, helping his side to a clean sheet and is now level on aerial battles won with Joe Gomez. The selection of a partner for Fabinho is a chance to prove possible transfer plans.

In midfield, Klopp’s hint that Thiago Alcantara has “a chance” to feature is heartening after his 20 minutes or so in Newcastle on Wednesday.

The Spaniard’s superlative passing range more than whet the appetite for what will follow between now and May.

Thiago is a class act who can provide an added dimension to Liverpool’s attacking play this season.

“He played 20 so there’s a chance, we will see if he has no muscle soreness or anything like that,” Klopp said ahead of the game.

But given the two-and-a-half-month absence prior to the short cameo in the north east, Thiago is perhaps more likely to be kept in reserve.

Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum are expected to keep their places, leaving that third spot open.

Thiago, as discussed, could fill that, but so too could James Milner, Curtis Jones or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who is pushing for his first start of the season against his former club.

Up top, the decision will be far more straightforward.

Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino will be tasked with adding to their collective 28-goal return so far.