Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has explained his reasons for leaving key centre-back Virgil van Dijk on the bench during the midweek Champions League win over AC Milan, and has hinted that his defenders will continue to be changed when opportunity allows.
Two were conceded in a crazy five-minute spell before half-time, but the Anfield club fought back to win 3-2 against their Serie A opponents.
Joe Gomez returned to the line-up in Europe, however, with £35m summer signing Ibrahima Konate yet to make his competitive debut and Nat Phillips restricted to a bench role in the expanded European matchday squad.
It’s all rather different to last season, when the Reds were constantly battling against injuries in the back line, resulting in Phillips’ breakthrough, a short-term loan for Ozan Kabak and Rhys Williams emerging as a senior player.
Due to the long-term injuries to the more established defenders in the squad last year, Klopp says he’s taking a considered approach to game time at the start of the new campaign to ensure they are not overworked too early - though he expects Van Dijk’s restricted time in particular to be “a short-term thing”.
“Virgil, it’s still in extended pre-season for him with a long time out,” Klopp said in his pre-match press conference ahead of the home clash with Crystal Palace.
“He was completely fine, could have played, but I wanted to be sensible. I don’t want to talk about injuries in the past but they were long-term, all four - even Ibou [Konate] had half a year ago a long-term injury. The quality is incredible these boys have, now we have to make sure we have a proper pair on the pitch. For the Milan game it worked really well but it won’t be that I always do that, but early in the season it was the right thing to do.”
Matip remained in the team for that game and the 30-year-old has played every minute so far this season. Klopp hailed his consistency and quality, with the former Cameroon international recovering from a series of injury setbacks in previous campaigns.
“I cannot help people who do not see the quality of Joel Matip!
“He was a bit unlucky in the past with injuries here and there, maybe not always the most difficult things, but he is a big boy, big player, so it can look time to time a bit edgy or whatever but he’s an incredible player and was since he joined us.
“For him it’s the same, we needed the quality, we have four or five top-class centre-halves and it’s good to have and necessary. But in the position when you only have two and they play 10, 12, 15 games in a row they are able to do that, but if you don’t have to why should we? We have now the opportunity to make some changes and from time to time, not always, we have to do that and hope they all stay fit and then we’ll be fine in that position for sure.”
At the other end of the pitch, Divock Origi and Sadio Mane came in for praise from the manager - but Brazilian forward Roberto Firmino will not return to Premier League action until next weekend’s game against Brentford at the earliest - though a midweek EFL Cup game at Norwich comes in midweek.
“No, he’s not ready. Bobby didn’t start [training] with the team, it’ll happen some time next week and then we’ll see.”
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies