Jurgen Klopp has a number of big decisions to make heading into the game against Manchester City on Saturday afternoon. A win for Liverpool would see them leapfrog their hosts into top spot. A loss, coupled with results elsewhere, could see the Reds end the weekend in fifth position. We’re just a third of the way into the 2023/24 campaign but the stakes are already high.
A lot of the focus heading into the game has been on Manchester City’s injury crisis. Though it is likely a lot of their injured players will make miraculous recoveries for the visit of Liverpool.
The Reds have had an injury crisis of their own though with Ibrahima Konate, Joe Gomez, Curtis Jones, Ryan Gravenberch, Thiago Alcantara, Andrew Robertson and Stefan Bajcetic all missing the win over Brentford. Klopp is expected to have all but the latter three available for the trip to the Etihad, a ground that Liverpool are winless at in the Premier League since 2015.
Midfield has been a topic of discussion at Anfield over recent weeks but the big call this weekend could well be in defence.
The expectation ahead of the new season was that, with his deal coming to an end in the summer, Joel Matip’s minutes would be somewhat limited this term. But he’s already been involved in eight of the 12 Premier League matches, starting seven of those, due to injuries to Konate.
The Frenchman missed the win over Brentford prior to the international break with what was reported to be a ‘small muscle injury to his left hamstring’. It is already the third separate injury issue the former RB Leipzig man has had this season.
Matip impressed for the Reds in the 3-0 victory against Brentford at Anfield. His performance earned him a 7.44 WhoScored rating and he handled himself well despite picking up an early yellow card. The 32-year-old completed 83.3% of his attempted passes and won four of his seven aerial duels as he played his part in ensuring Alisson Becker kept a clean sheet.
Klopp usually likes to ease players back in following an injury. After his last stint on the sidelines, Konate was given minutes in the cup competitions while making cameo appearances off the bench in the Premier League for a couple of weeks. He didn’t find his way back into the starting XI until after the October international break.
France still called him up though and he was used by Didier Deschamps, much to the disappointment of Klopp. The Liverpool boss was quoted as saying: "I love absolutely everything about Ibou, but the problem is Ibou had injury problems from time to time and Mr Deschamps played him 90 and 87 minutes in the two games." After resting Konate against Toulouse, Klopp added: "I spoke to Ibou and told him, ‘Tell Mr Deschamps that’s how you rest a player’. "Not three minutes, no, the full 90."
In normal circumstances, Konate would probably have his minutes managed for the next couple of weeks and Matip would get the nod against City. But there’s nothing normal about a trip to the Etihad, is there?
Matip is calm and composed in possession. He’s a real asset for the Reds against teams prepared to stand off and allow them the ball. City aren’t going to do that though, are they? After being held to a 4-4 draw with Chelsea before the international break, Pep Guardiola’s side are going to want to make a statement and a home match against Liverpool is the perfect opportunity. A big performance here would silence those who have questioned whether the champions are as inevitable as in previous seasons.
They are going to be aggressive and Jeremy Doku is likely going to start on the left of the City attack. With Trent Alexander-Arnold continuing to invert when the Reds have the ball, it will leave the right-sided centre-back isolated against the Belgian winger during transitions. As good as Matip is, he’s going to lose any physical battle with the one-time Liverpool transfer target. He’s not quick enough or powerful enough to come out on top in one-on-one moments against the City No.11. Konate, however, can more than hold his own in these duels.
Do Liverpool risk the 24-year-old though? It may have only been a small hamstring issue but that particular muscle is going to be put to work against Doku and if he’s not 100% recovered, he could be set for a longer spell on the sidelines. Furthermore, Konate hasn’t been in the greatest form this season. He has a WhoScored rating of just 6.65 in the Premier League this season, whereas Matip boasts an average of 6.84, and he was fortunate not to be sent off in the win over Everton.
This is a big decision for Klopp. Does he look to fight fire with fire and pit Doku in a physical battle with Konate? Or does he opt for experience and form? After all, Matip has delivered in big games before. This could be where the match is won or lost.