Liverpool face Joel Matip decision as Xherdan Shaqiri conundrum emerges – Liverpool Echo

After months of waiting, Jurgen Klopp is now in possession of a rare commodity for next week’s Manchester United visit.

Liverpool have been forced to navigate their way through an injury-ravaged and fixture-congested Autumn, but have done so impressively, keeping themselves at the summit of the Premier League.

Recent results have dented that, of course, with the Reds without a win in their last three league games.

Monday’s 1-0 defeat at Southampton was a hugely dispiriting one and the Reds’ general away form has been suspect for much of the campaign.

But with the biggest game of the season so far now on the horizon, Klopp has the luxury of time.

Time to plan, plot and strategise his way to what could be a huge three points in this season’s title race.

Time to prepare tactically and technically for the top-of-the-table clash on January 17.

Klopp made a raft of changes for the visit to an inexperienced Aston Villa side in the FA Cup on Friday night, but he was still able to call on the likes of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and captain Jordan Henderson.

If that was a surprise to many, pre-match, the fact Xherdan Shaqiri and Thiago Alcantara were also summoned for in an attempt to establish a significant lead was more shocking.

Alisson Becker will return to Liverpool’s goal for the game against the Red Devils.

Young Irishman Caoimhin Kelleher has enjoyed a good season that has seen him displace Adrian as the deputy, but Brazil No.1 Alisson will take his rightful place between the sticks when United roll into town.

So too will Trent Alexander-Arnold at right-back as he aims to put a night to forget at Southampton behind him.

Klopp moved to offer some mitigation for why Alexander-Arnold was below par on the south coast on Thursday, detailing a COVID-19 diagnosis in the summer alongside issues such as a hamstring injury and a lack of any real pre-season programme.

This rest could help reinvigorate Alexander-Arnold for the challenge ahead and he will return to the side alongside his fellow ‘wingman’ Andy Robertson on the left.

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Those two could be key to getting Liverpool back in the groove as a creative force in their first match at Anfield since December 27.

Fabinho will once more be asked to man the fort at centre-back, but the issue of his partner, as ever, is the hottest topic at Anfield.

As it stands, Joel Matip is facing a race against time for the match.

Klopp, wisely, was unwilling to make any grand statement either way about Matip’s potential inclusion for this one.

“Until the United game we still have around nine days, so we try,” he said. “He is in a good way but if it will be United or a few days later, I don’t know.”

Liverpool will be working overtime to ensure the injury-prone centre-back is patched up in time for the visit of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men. His inclusion could make all the difference.

In midfield, Klopp has more options available to him with Gini Wijnaldum and Thiago Alcantara making strong cases for themselves.

The Spanish midfielder helped turn the tide in Liverpool’s favour at Aston Villa and will be desperate to build on that display in the English football’s biggest fixture.

Thiago will no doubt have imagined him starring in such matches when he first took the decision to move to Anfield in September.

Captain Jordan Henderson, despite a disappointing 45 minutes at Villa Park, will be expected to join them in the engine room, but Klopp also has the claims of Curtis Jones and, to a lesser extent, the returning Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to consider.

Naby Keita may be back in the thinking by then, but it would represent a big decision by Klopp to name him in the side ahead of other fully-fit midfield options.

Up top, the thought process has more clarity to it.

Liverpool star Mohamed Salah

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With Diogo Jota still in a knee brace, Klopp will be without the nine-goal summer signing from Wolves.

That means Roberto Firmino is likely to be recalled at the expense of Takumi Minamino, who didn’t enjoy his best game at Villa Park.

Xherdan Shaqiri is someone whose claims have been strengthened by events in the Midlands on Friday evening, at least.

The Switzerland international has only been able to decorate games fleetingly this season thanks, yet again, to injury troubles, but his second-half cameo was an encouraging one, even allowing for the novices Liverpool were up against.

Klopp will have a hard time getting what many would consider his strongest XI on the pitch at the same time before this season is out but if Liverpool can get Matip ready, then it will be a team as powerful as possible when United march to Merseyside.

And given Liverpool’s ability to turn on the style in this season’s big matches, United could represent the perfect opponent to snap out of this curious malaise.