Saturday 19 January 2019

John Aldridge: Jurgen Klopp must keep his pack of three aces up his sleeve for Manchester United showdown

Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino
Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino

John Aldridge

LIVERPOOL are looking secure in the Premier League's top four for the first time this season, so opportunity knocks for Reds manager Jurgen Klopp in the next few days.

Chelsea's pathetically limp display in their 1-0 defeat against Manchester City on Sunday leaves them well off the pace in the race for Champions League qualification and the problems springing in Antonio Conte's team means they will struggle to get back into the top four race now.

Liverpool still have to go to Stamford Bridge in the penultimate game of the Premier League season, but there is a good chance they will be more than six points ahead of Chelsea by then if Klopp is sensible in his planning in the next month.

The Manchester United game at Old Trafford on Saturday is looming large on the horizon and Klopp has to take advantage of his side's 5-0 win against FC Porto in the Champions League last month when he names his team for tonight’s second leg.

If I was in charge of Liverpool this evening, I'd put the dynamic front three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino on the bench and hope that I don't have to use them.

Adam Lallana, Dominic Solanke and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all need starts, so they should start up front for Liverpool tonight, with the big guns left on the bench ahead of the United game.

It's hardly a gamble rotating the squad when you have so many quality options in reserve and while people have paid good money to watch the game at Anfield tonight, Klopp could still put out a strong side even without his first choice front three.

He should also shake up the rest of his team and I would go with James Milner and Georginio Wijnaldum in midfield, with Virgil van Dijk not needed in defence for a tie that is already won.

I would be quite happy to see Liverpool lose 1-0 tonight if it means they are in better shape to rip into United on Saturday because that has to be the big game now.

Finishing second in the Premier League is not what Liverpool or United want as the two most successful clubs in English football history are used to winning titles, but Manchester City have had top spotted wrapped up for months and second place is a prize worth chasing.

The rivalry between Liverpool and United is intense and as a kid growing up as a Red on Merseyside, this was the fixture that I always watched while hiding behind the back of my sofa and it will be no different all these years on Saturday.

United have not been too impressive in recent weeks and Liverpool have a real chance to give them a beating this weekend, but Klopp needs to make sure he gives himself the best chance possible going into the game at Old Trafford.

Liverpool's front three of Salah, Mane and Firmino are unstoppable when they click through the gears at pace and Mourinho and United will be fearing what they can do to them if they are fresh and ready to be unleashed.

That's why I hope Klopp gives all three the night off tonight before the game that really matters on Saturday.

The wreckage of Arsenal's season has to ensure Arsene Wenger stands down as manager this summer and the chaos at that club reminds me of what it felt like to watch Liverpool in the final few months of Rafael Benitez reign.

Liverpool fans gave Benitez a warm reception as he returned to Anfield with Newcastle last weekend and while everyone at the club will be grateful to him for being part of the incredible 2005 Champions League win, some people have short memories over how his time at Anfield ended.

That 2009/10 season that was the last before Benitez left Liverpool was an example of a manager who was living on past glories and had run out of ideas, with the football we all had to witness that season about as entertaining as watching paint dry. We saw some familiar tactics from Benitez last Saturday.

He tries to ruin matches when he feels his side cannot win, but it is bloody horrible to watch every week and I don't envy the Newcastle fans trying to embrace that brand of football right now.

The trouble for Wenger at Arsenal is he doesn't even have that negative gameplan to fall back on in his hour of need and that is why is Arsenal side are sinking without trace at the moment.

Benitez had too much power at Liverpool after his 2005 Champions League victory and and we have seen something very similar at Arsenal in recent months and it can only end one way…with Wenger finally leaving the club.

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