Jurgen Klopp’s just had his best week in the Liverpool job, with the 4-1 hammering of Manchester City followed by progression in the Europa League and a three valuable points against Swansea City on a weekend when everyone around the Reds dropped at least two.
Furthermore, that Swansea game saw the returns of skipper Jordan Henderson for the first time since August, as well as the end of Daniel Sturridge’s apparent allergy to football pitches – with the forward getting a valuable 20 minutes at the end. In addition to that, defender Mamadou Sakho has delivered a positive update on his fitness and hopes to be back sooner than anticipated.
Assuming all can stay healthy – I know, I know – then suddenly Klopp will have gone from having meagre resources at his disposal for his first few weeks on the job – sorry, Divock Origi – to a bounty of riches, so what will his best XI be?
Let’s try and get inside the German’s head.
Goalkeeper: Simon Mignolet
As the Bordeaux game showed, Simon Mignolet is still prone to the type of brain melt which ensures that his long-term future in the Liverpool goal can never be too secure, but that aside the Belgian has had a quietly impressive 2015, during which no goalkeeper has kept more Premier League clean sheets.
Adam Bogdan’s position as a faithful deputy has been enhanced by impressive performances in his only two Reds outings against Carlisle United and Bournemouth in the League Cup, but Mignolet retains No. 1 status at the moment and rightly so.
Defence: Nathaniel Clyne, Martin Skrtel, Mamadou Sakho, Alberto Moreno
Liverpool’s defence was beginning to resemble a settled unit before Sakho limped off against Crystal Palace earlier this month, but to his credit Dejan Lovren has been largely impressive since coming in to deputise for the Frenchman.
The Croatian’s problems during his first season at Liverpool – and indeed the start of this one – were well documented, but although the arrival of Klopp has seen him improve, and he’s still going to get his fair share of games, Sakho’s form before his injury means that he should retake his place when he returns to fitness.
The rest of the defence pretty much picks itself, especially in the full-back positions where Nathaniel Clyne and Alberto Moreno have impressed but could do with some serious competition, whilst Martin Skrtel has recovered from a disappointing period to retake his place as the Reds’ premier centre-back.
Midfield: Emre Can, Jordan Henderson, Philippe Coutinho
This is the toughest decision of the lot, but given that Liverpool have already played pretty much every one of their ‘tough’ away games in the league this season – they’ve been to both Manchester clubs, both North London clubs, Chelsea, Everton and Stoke, only losing once and picking up 12 points – then it would make sense for Klopp to set his side up to go on the attack in most of the Reds’ remaining matches.
Given that he’s the club captain, then it would be safe to assume that Henderson is going to start the majority of the time, which could spell bad news for the weekend’s matchwinner James Milner, who is an excellent player but might just find his position coming under threat from his skipper.
Lucas Leiva is another who has been in fine form since Klopp’s arrival, but Emre Can offers more mobility in midfield, with his talent beginning to blossom since the arrival of his compatriot in the dugout. Philippe Coutinho has to play, of course, but despite impressive recent scoring form his qualities still lie more in the playmaking side of things and so he could play a slightly withdrawn role from the attack.
Milner, Lucas and Joe Allen will all get to play in their fair share of matches, but they might have to be patient.
Attack: Adam Lallana, Roberto Firmino, Daniel Sturridge
It’s another incredibly tough call for Klopp to make, but this might just be the best attack he could field to implement his infamous pressing game.
It’s clear that the German has been impressed with the displays of Adam Lallana since his arrival at the club, and the England man deserves praise for turning around a Reds career which appeared to be going nowhere fast. His ability to link play and swap positions with the likes of Coutinho and Roberto Firmino will be crucial to what Klopp wants to do, and it is possible to see him becoming a key man for Liverpool for the remainder of the campaign.
As for Firmino, the Brazilian has had a couple of quiet games for the Reds recently, but as he showed at Manchester City he can be a devastating attacking force when fielded in the right system, and it’s possible to imagine him linking up with Sturridge as well as continuing what looks to be a fruitful partnership with fellow countryman Coutinho.
The elephant in the room here is of course the omission of Christian Benteke, but like Milner he will still get his opportunities to impress either from the bench or the start depending on Sturridge’s fitness and form, yet he just misses out due to his less impressive movement.
Yet it is Sturridge, of course, who is the key to this system.
If Klopp can get him back to the player that we all knew and loved in the 2013/14 season then theirs could be a match made in heaven, and whilst it will pay to tread carefully with him on his return to the fold, both the options available to the manager and Liverpool’s fixture list should have fans cautiously optimistic for December and beyond.
Read more from Mark Jones