Liverpool began the season with as many as seven trophies on offer and, while one of those has fallen by the wayside after the Community Shield penalty shoot-out loss to Manchester City, another presents itself in the form of the UEFA Super Cup against Chelsea tonight. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this fixture is that it takes place in Istanbul, a city which evokes very fond memories for Kopites. It is also possibly the most ridiculous aspect of this fixture, UEFA’s admirably democratic yet horribly impractical travelling circus requiring two English clubs to traverse the continent for a one-off match of little substance.
Its shoehorning into the middle of the first and second Premier League weekends of the season is far from ideal, although it does present Jurgen Klopp with a rare and welcome opportunity to give his key players the night off. The unrelenting brilliance of Manchester City means that the Reds will almost certainly have no wriggle room in the league, while the only way Liverpool can ease up in Champions League games is if they qualify from their group early or forge an all but insurmountable first leg lead.
Therefore, Klopp needs to seize this chance to give some of Liverpool’s less regular players an opportunity to prove their worth and leave the star attractions fresh to unleash their wrath on Saturday on a Southampton defence that was shown to be of the porous variety last weekend. In this piece, I go through each position to discuss who should be given the opportunity to start at Vodafone Park tonight.
Prior to last Friday’s win against Norwich, I would likely have earmarked Adrian to start in the Super Cup. From the moment that Alisson’s involvement against the Canaries was cut short by injury, I revised that opinion to citing Adrian as a certain starter. The former West Ham man is going to be the Reds’ first-choice stopper until such time that the Brazil ‘keeper is fit again and, while there’s no guarantee that Adrian won’t suffer the same fate as his team-mate, he needs games and Klopp doesn’t have a great deal of choice for this position.
Adrian had barely had the chance to look his new team-mates in the eyes by the time he was thrust into action at Anfield last week, so any chance he gets to build chemistry with Liverpool’s defence must be taken. Also, with Caoimhin Kelleher included in the squad but still recovering from injury, the Reds’ only other goalkeeping option is Andy Lonergan, the 35-year-old who came on board primarily to fill a gap on last month’s pre-season tour of USA and now looks set to sign a short-term deal with the club. From Middlesbrough to a UEFA final in a matter of months would be quite a rise for the veteran netminder if he features tonight.
This would have been the perfect game for Nathaniel Clyne to get some minutes at right-back, but his lengthy injury layoff leaves no senior cover for Trent Alexander-Arnold. Tonight’s match could be an ideal testing ground, though, for 17-year-old Ki-Jana Hoever to impress. The Dutch teenager had a solid debut in the FA Cup at Wolves last season and recently signed his first professional contract at Anfield, so a fitting reward would be to start tonight and give Alexander-Arnold the rarity of a night off.
Virgil van Dijk is far too important to the team to be risked tonight, while Dejan Lovren is unfortunately ruled out through illness, which means that I would pick a centre-back partnership of Joel Matip and Joe Gomez. The Cameroonian looked a fine player alongside Van Dijk at the heart of Liverpool’s defence last season, while the England defender could do with further game time off the back of the leg injury that curtailed his 2018/19 involvement.
The complete absence of left-back cover for Andrew Robertson will probably force the Scotland captain to play unless James Milner is assigned to that role purely to give his team-mate a rest. As with Clyne, it’s a huge shame that Yasser Larouci was injured in pre-season, as a game like this would have been the perfect chance to gain some minutes at senior level.
Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have been likened to new signings over the summer, with both players dogged by injury in recent months. Lallana has been tried in an unfamiliar ‘number six’ role in pre-season and the early signs were that he could quickly acclimatise to the role. With Fabinho being preferred in that position against Norwich and putting in a typically industrious display, Lallana might not be a regular starter this term, so tonight could be a good time to give him the nod ahead of the Brazilian.
Oxlade-Chamberlain is still feeding off scraps since returning to action against Huddersfield towards the end of last season; this seems like an ideal chance to include him in the starting XI and give him the game time he needs if he is to rediscover the form that won him so many admirers during his debut season at Anfield in 2017/18.
Naby Keita’s involvement is in doubt after he limped out of training yesterday with an apparent muscle problem. It has been an injury-plagued summer for the Guinean, who has fallen behind Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum in the pecking order, so it is a pity that he looks unlikely to play in Istanbul tonight. It could open the door, though, for teenager Harvey Elliott to get a taste of first-team action after his recent arrival from Fulham. The 16-year-old is unlikely to feature in Premier League and Champions League games, so tonight offers an ideal chance for a competitive Liverpool debut.
Any chance that Klopp gets to rest Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane this season must be taken. Tonight is one of those chances.
On the right, Xherdan Shaqiri could do with an impressive display after he struggled for minutes in the second half of last season. The Swiss winger has shown that he can wreak havoc in games, as Manchester United would testify, but he hasn’t scored since the 4-0 win over Newcastle on Boxing Day 2018.
Divock Origi has proven his worth this year, so tonight I’d like to see Rhian Brewster leading the line. The teenager was excellent in pre-season, scoring four times and putting himself in the frame for first-team action while Harry Wilson was dispatched on loan to Bournemouth. The 19-year-old should be brimming with confidence after his magnificent pre-season displays and, with the stakes relatively low tonight, it would be the perfect setting to put him to the test again.
Klopp decided to keep Ryan Kent in his squad this season instead of letting him go out on loan again and, with the 22-year-old already loaned out five times by the Reds, 2019/20 could be his last chance to shine at Anfield. He will probably have to be content with piecemeal action but this game represents a good chance for him to repay his manager’s faith. Having last played for Liverpool in the FA Cup 43 months ago, this could be an opportunity for him to show how much progress he has made since then.