Liverpool could be without Ibrahima Konate for Sunday’s showdown with Manchester City at Anfield.
It’s been a far from ideal week for Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool – even after condemning Rangers to their joint-heaviest defeat in the Champions League on Wednesday – as the injury issues that hampered the club’s early-season ambitions have returned.
As the post-mortem of Sunday’s defeat to Arsenal commenced on Monday morning, it was revealed that Luis Diaz and Trent Alexander-Arnold would both be set for a spell on the sidelines after sustaining knee and ankle injuries respectively at the Emirates. For the defender, he should be back before the end of the month as his issue is not believed to be as bad as initially feared, but Diaz will not make a return until after the World Cup as his clash with Thomas Partey late in the first half is expected to keep him out of action for between eight and ten weeks.
And if that wasn’t damaging enough, on Tuesday afternoon the Reds’ injury woes were aggravated further when it was established that Joel Matip had suffered a calf injury during the 3-2 defeat to Mikel Arteta’s side and would therefore also miss the weekend’s clash with Manchester City. Even at that point, the Liverpool manager would have been scratching his head and holding his breath ahead of the Citizens’ visit to Merseyside on Sunday.
However, any head-scratching or breath-holding would have intensified on Friday afternoon when Ibrahima Konate was absent from Liverpool’s second-day recovery training at the AXA Centre. Having started, and impressed, during Wednesday’s 7-1 victory over the Gers, the Frenchman would have been one of the first names on the teamsheet some four days later, but it now seems as though the Reds boss will be forced to tinker with a temporary defensive unit instead as he works out how to become just the second Premier League side to stop the free-scoring Erling Haaland from finding the back of the net.
One silver lining for Liverpool though is the fact that the Frenchman’s situation does not appear as bad as initial reports, with the ECHO understanding that he was not scheduled to train on Friday afternoon, and on Saturday afternoon Anfield sources refused to rule him out of Sunday’s clash. But if he fails to overcome what is likely to be a late fitness test, how could Klopp line up on Sunday afternoon against the Premier League’s in-form side?
The inclusion of experience – Milner, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson
The most likely alternative for Klopp will be to bring James Milner into the starting XI. With Joe Gomez previously set to get the nod at right-back, up against Phil Foden, after Alexander-Arnold’s injury last weekend, Gomez will surely now move along the defensive conveyor belt to partner Virgil van Dijk at centre-back.
Milner started the corresponding fixture last October after Alexander-Arnold had picked up an abductor injury in the days prior to the contest. While the two sides shared the spoils on that occasion thanks to a late, deflected strike from Kevin de Bruyne, the 36-year-old endured a torrid afternoon up against Foden and Joao Cancelo on City’s left-hand side as he failed to keep up with the intensity of the star-studded affair.
Foden bagged the Citizens’ first equaliser of the afternoon as he timed his run into the box to perfection and coolly drilled his effort past Alisson Becker into the far corner. Up against the 22-year-old all afternoon, Milner struggled as he was isolated against the City man and his afternoon could have arguably been ended prematurely when he should have received his marching orders for a second bookable offensive on Bernardo Silva in the second half.
And while the former City midfielder will undoubtedly bring experience and the much-needed big-game nous to the table if he was to be named in the starting XI at 3:30pm on Sunday, it feels like his days of playing a starring role in such a momentous fixture are behind him and Klopp should therefore seek solutions from elsewhere.
Out from the blue – Gomez, Phillips, Van Dijk, Robertson
Another option to bail the Liverpool manager out of the defensive crisis is to hand Nat Phillips his second start of the season, alongside Van Dijk. Phillips hasn’t featured since starting the Reds’ first home game of the season, a 1-1 draw against Crystal Palace. However, the 25-year-old was withdrawn after 63 minutes, moments after Liverpool had cancelled out Wilfried Zaha’s opener thanks to a supreme Luis Diaz strike.
The Reds looked far more assured in defence and a greater threat going forward after Gomez had replaced Phillips alongside the Dutch colossus, with the former Bolton man looking rather shaky in possession and not offering the same recovery pace as his English counterpart when Palace looked to catch Klopp’s side out on the break.
Facing Manchester City at Anfield would be a completely different test for Phillips, especially up against the game’s most in-form striker, Haaland. Additionally, with Van Dijk and Phillips having only lined up alongside one another once previously, it would feel like an almighty risk from Klopp if he was to throw the 25-year-old into the firing line in a low-on-confidence defensive unit.
A wildcard shout – Gomez, Fabinho, Van Dijk, Robertson
Having struggled for form since suffering a hamstring injury against Aston Villa at Villa Park in May, Fabinho has found himself in and out of the Reds’ starting XI in recent weeks as his manager has looked to combine the experience of Jordan Henderson and Thiago Alcantara with the youth of Harvey Elliott.
However, Konate’s injury could hand the Brazilian a way back into the fold, albeit in a position he would be quick to label as a less-favoured one. Klopp could persist with Gomez at right-back after his impressive display in Glasgow in midweek, leaving a vacant position alongside Van Dijk for Fabinho to capitalise on.
It’s a position Fabinho has played more frequently during his time in Ligue 1 with Monaco, however, he also endured a brief spell in the Reds’ backline during the 2020/21 season as Gomez, Van Dijk and Matip suffered season-ending injuries. Prior to the Dutchman’s ACL injury in October 2020, Fabinho and Van Dijk impressed alongside one another in September as a defensive duo during a 2-0 victory at Stamford Bridge.
Boasting a freshly-signed Timo Werner, the former Monaco man demonstrated an incredible reading of the game to thwart the Chelsea striker and ensure he and his team-mates endured a frustrating afternoon in the final third as they fired a blank in front of goal.
Additionally, if the Liverpool manager wanted to surprise the City boss altogether he could spring a surprise and deploy Fabinho at right-back, given that it is a position he played frequently with Monaco and Brazil prior to announcing himself as one of the best holding midfielders in the European game. However, having not played the position at club level since his move to Anfield in 2018, it would feel like another almighty risk for the Liverpool manager to take against such slick opposition.