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Jurgen Klopp faces Liverpool squad conundrum with echoes of ‘near-quadruple’ season

The Reds are competing on four fronts and international call-ups will pose some piercing questions ahead of Sunday’s FA Cup showdown with Arsenal

Richard Jolly
Senior Football Correspondent
Saturday 06 January 2024 13:26 GMT
Jurgen Klopp faces some team decisions for the FA Cup tie against Arsenal
Jurgen Klopp faces some team decisions for the FA Cup tie against Arsenal (AFP via Getty Images)

Jurgen Klopp has been here before. In a title race, among the favourites for a European trophy, closing in on the League Cup final, with an FA Cup campaign, contemplating glory on several fronts, wondering if a huge workload will take its toll. A few days ago, he had talked about what he called the “near-quadruple” season; there have been treble winners but, in a sense, Liverpool came closer than anyone else to the grand slam of trophies, sustaining a title challenge to the final day, reaching a Champions League final.

They won the FA and Carabao Cups in 2022. Two years on, they face a sizeable first obstacle at Arsenal – “probably the most tricky draw you can get,” Klopp argued – but overcome it and another double may feel feasible. There is a case that, with their squad stretched by injuries and international call-ups, Liverpool would be better off exiting the FA Cup at the first hurdle and channelling their attention into other competitions. There is also an argument that Liverpool’s marathon 63-game campaign in 2021-22, when they played every possible match, was a factor in their regression the following year.

It is not one Klopp endorses. “The season with the three finals and a Premier League was intense while we were in it, but it was good fun as well,” he said. “The games the boys played, the two finals against Chelsea were two of the best draws I saw in my life – unbelievably intense, technically at a super high level – so it was a wonderful experience. And playing at Wembley is a top experience. I would not change it for anything. It was absolutely great. Obviously, a Champions League final is not on the horizon [now] but maybe there is a Europa League final, which is really difficult to reach because there are a couple of really good teams in it. But no, you cannot really think like that. We cannot go out of a competition just because we think we might have a problem next year. That would be a problem we have to sort then.”

Instead, Klopp has more immediate problems to sort. There are reasons why trebles are rare, and quadruples non-existent. They reflect the realities of knockout football where one game – and one error, of whatever kind – can be fatal and the vagaries of the draw: Liverpool did it the hard way in 2021-22, beating Arsenal and Manchester City in their respective semi-finals, Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea in each final, but they had an easier start to each competition.

And then there is the probability that, at some stage, resources will be reduced. A trip to Arsenal may be ill-timed in various respects: the Gunners’ consecutive Premier League defeats may give Mikel Arteta added reason not to rotate.

Meanwhile, Klopp is without eight players, perhaps four of whom would be in his strongest side, with a couple of others who he may not want to overwork. Mohamed Salah signed off for the African Cup of Nations with a part in all four goals against Newcastle on Monday, Wataru Endo by being voted Liverpool’s player of the month for December.

Mohamed Salah and Wataru Endo are two of the Liverpool players away on international duty

Each leaves a hole, though Alexis Mac Allister may make a first start in a month at the base of the midfield. Harvey Elliott, who excelled in a rare outing on the right wing against West Ham, may stand in for Salah, though there will be a shared responsibility for compensating for his absence. “When Mo is playing it makes sense that we play a specific way so that he can be in his favourite position, he deserves that and he helps us there the most,” Klopp said. “But when he’s not there we have to be creative and maybe we will be.”

If Elliott begins as a forward, Klopp still has five options for his front three positions. But, with Dominik Szoboszlai joining Thiago Alcantara and Stefan Bajcetic on the treatment table, that leaves him with only three senior players to form the trio in midfield, in Curtis Jones, Ryan Gravenberch and Mac Allister – while the Argentine’s comeback will presumably not span 90 minutes.

Liverpool look still more depleted in defence. Klopp has spoken of the need to wrap Joe Gomez “in cotton wool” while both specialist left-backs, Andy Robertson and Kostas Tsimikas, are out; recalling Owen Beck from loan from Dundee suggests the great-nephew of Ian Rush may play the biggest game of his career. Ibrahima Konate has been so injury-prone, and Klopp so cautious about the Frenchman, that he has only started back-to-back games once since August. Enter Jarell Quansah, presumably, while Nat Phillips has been recalled from an underwhelming loan at Celtic. Meanwhile, there are times when Virgil van Dijk and Trent Alexander-Arnold can look like superhuman figures but Liverpool could have done with the sort of tie when it would be easier to rest both.

But as Klopp rationalised about his absent top scorer: “We play Arsenal; we can lose to Arsenal with Mo.” Instead, there is no Salah, a semi-final against Fulham on Wednesday to complicate his thinking and the chance that Liverpool, with a lone defeat in 34 games against English opposition, are underdogs at Arsenal. The teamsheet may offer an answer. For now, though, 2022’s quadruple chasers are in four competitions.

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