Jurgen Klopp declared himself “really happy” headed into the international break after a 1-1 draw against Manchester City at the Etihad – but injuries to Trent Alexander-Arnold and now Joe Gomez means the Liverpool manager’s mood may be a little drearier now.
Alexander-Arnold went down with a calf issue in the second half at City and it has since been revealed the Reds’ first-choice right-back will spend up to six weeks on the sidelines.
The 22-year-old England international could miss Liverpool’s next six games including all of their remaining three Champions League group stage games, though Klopp and co have one foot in the last 16 already.
With that not enough of a blow, centre-back Joe Gomez has added to the Premier League champions’ deepening defensive crisis having suffered a knee injury in England training on Wednesday.
Gareth Southgate revealed on Wednesday night: “I can’t tell you how serious it is because he is yet to have scans. What was upsetting to see, he was in a fair bit of pain. There was nobody around him when the injury happened. I didn’t like that element of it.”
He added: “We’re all hopeful for him that it’s not what it might be. But it’s not a good situation. We’re hoping and praying it is not going to be a long-term one. We’ll just have to see.”
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And Klopp will have to juggle his options at the back as his side look to contend with the threat of Jamie Vardy and James Maddison in particular.
With Gomez and Van Dijk sidelined, Matip is Liverpool’s most senior centre-half and Klopp will be desperately hoping the Cameroonian can find the fitness and form he managed in 2018-19.
The 29-year-old played 14 of Liverpool’s final 16 games of the league season, losing none and only conceding 10 goals, while also featuring in both legs of the iconic European semi-final against Barcelona and managing the full 90 minutes in the final win over Tottenham.
In the calendar year of 2019, Matip arguably played as well as any other Liverpool player and the same centre-back duo that held Bayern Munich to a 0-0 draw in the first leg of a Champions League last 16 clash will return.
That should see Matip line up as the left-sided centre-back with Fabinho, fresh from a hamstring injury, on the right alongside him.
For as long as Gomez is out, that will be Liverpool’s go-to centre-half partnership with Nat Phillips the most likely to step in to allow Matip rest in the league and Rhys Williams the most likely deputy in Europe.
Phillips, 23, is not in Liverpool’s Champions League squad but fared well alongside Gomez against West Ham last month while teenager Williams acquitted himself well next to the Englishman against Midtyjlland and Atalanta, keeping clean sheets in both games.
Klopp explained last month: “We have still, obviously, other options like Hendo or Gini or James – or Robbo can play centre-half as well.
“They are all not smaller than [Javier] Mascherano, for example, and he played pretty well in that position. So yes, we have obviously still one or two options.”
Elsewhere in the team, James Milner will likely play the most minutes at right-back while Alexander-Arnold is sidelined but the lesser-experienced Neco Williams should also step in on occasion, perhaps in home games when Liverpool are expected to dominate the ball and attack for the bulk of the 90 minutes.
With Fabinho playing at centre-back, Thiago Alcantara’s return from injury will be more than welcome so that he can join Henderson and Wijnaldum in a midfield three while Diogo Jota could soon displace Roberto Firmino up top before long with the Brazilian below his best this term – though Firmino is likely to start more matches than not.
Likely Liverpool XI without Joe Gomez: Alisson; Milner, Matip, Fabinho, Robertson; Thiago, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Mane.
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