By Ritchie Slack (@Slack_9)
After a respectable win over Sheffield United at the weekend, Liverpool return to Champions League action against Danish Superliga Champions Midtjylland.
The Danes were thrashed 4-0 by Atalanta in their opening group game, whereas the Reds beat Ajax away in a comprehensive 1-0 victory. Since then, Klopp has welcomed back Alisson Becker to the striating line up, but Thiago Alcântara, Naby Keïta, and Joël Matip remain unavailable. When asked today if the trio were in contention, the Liverpool manager said: “I don’t think so…probably nobody added, but we didn’t lose anybody as well.”
It will be interesting to see what Jürgen Klopp does in match day two of the Champions League. At the weekend, Liverpool offered a lacklustre first half display in what appeared to be a 4-2-3-1 formation. At times it was more of a 4-2-4 set up though, with Roberto Firmino featuring alongside Mohamed Salah and not in the number ten role many thought he’d occupy.
The Blades set out to blunt the threat of Liverpool’s fullbacks, playing five across the back to nullify the runs of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson. The first half saw Chris Wilder’s team control parts of the game, often packing their midfield against the Henderson-Wijnaldum double pivot. They overran the pair on occasions, pushing their full backs to midfield to create a four/five-man battle against Liverpool’s two.
In the second half, The Reds were much better. Liverpool had the quality to see off the visitors with a superb Sadio Mané cross for Diogo Jota’s header. The Portuguese match-winner grew into the game and will be striving for a start this Tuesday. As a result, Klopp has to decide whether to stick with the 4-2-3-1 formation, or revert back to his favoured 4-3-3.
While Matip’s injury concerns have encouraged Klopp not to rush him back, there are signs of a blossoming relationship between his current defensive duo. Joe Gomez had a confident game on Saturday, earning rave reviews for his defensive prowess. Meanwhile, Fabinho was unfortunate to give away a contentious penalty, but otherwise enjoyed an unyielding outing.
In the midfield, there seems to be places up for grabs with Henderson and Wijnaldum featuring again at the weekend. We could see the likes of Curtis Jones or Xherdan Shaqiri play a role, now that Keïta and Thiago are unlikely to be involved.
As for the attacking force, any line-up is plausible, with many fans voicing their concerns over the recent form of Firmino. Whilst I’m a firm fan of the Brazilian, he has looked jaded at times and he hasn’t been as involved in the build up as much as he usually is. Often, it has been Firmino who the system rests upon; he creates and manipulates the space for Mané and Salah to score as many goals as they do.
However, the 29-year-old is often criticised (wrongly in my opinion) for not scoring enough goals, but without him, the gegenpressing system has never quite worked. Perhaps a period of recovery is what the forward needs; after all, he remains the lynchpin in this formidable Liverpool system.Embed from Getty Images
Takumi Minamino is the man also earmarked to fill that role, and against the three-time Danish champions, perhaps Firmino will finally be afforded a rare rest. This would allow Minamino to prove his worth after some efficient and encouraging performances in recent months.
As for Midtjylland, this will undoubtedly be their biggest game in recent years. A morale-boosting 3-2 win at the weekend over Brondby will buoy the Jutland based team. Furthermore, head coach Brian Priske Pedersen is familiar with being on English soil, having played for Portsmouth at centre back between 2005-2006. Nicknamed ‘The Wolves’, Liverpool’s opponents are playing in the competition’s group stage for the first time in their history.
With two able attackers in Anders Dreyer and Poine Sisto, the pair will be hoping they can score Midtjylland’s first ever goals in the Champions League proper. They will have to be more compact and less passive than they have been over the past few outings though, where they have conceded 31 shots on goal in their past two games – a statistic the Liverpool attack will be salivating over. They also usually line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, which makes the prospect of Liverpool’s formation even more intriguing.
Liverpool and Midtjylland have never met in any competition and it would be safe to assume that The Reds will have too much firepower for such a susceptible defence. Nonetheless, this is the Champions League, where fact is sometimes stranger than fiction, where any team on any one night can reign supreme.