Rotation, rotation, rotation: Injury concerns no longer a problem for Klopp's Liverpool

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Mo Salah, Virgil van Dijk and Sadio Mane gave the Reds a scare this week ahead of their Premier League trip to Huddersfield

Jurgen Klopp would have been forgiven for wondering if Liverpool’s international break was being controlled by Pep Guardiola.

Worse even - Jose Mourinho.

Every beep of the Reds boss’ phone seemed to bring bad news, with Klopp left helpless on Merseyside as his stars around the world were pushed to, and sometimes beyond, their limits.

The treatment room at Melwood has been busier than the car park this week, with Liverpool’s medical staff tasked with patching up the club’s walking wounded ahead of a welcome return to Premier League action.

Sadio Mane underwent surgery on a hand injury on Wednesday and is a doubt for today’s trip to Huddersfield Town, while Naby Keita will miss the game, as well as the Champions League clash with Red Star Belgrade on Wednesday, due to a hamstring problem sustained playing for Guinea.

Not ideal, though it could easily have been worse. Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah both caused concern when returning early from international duty, but both have been fit enough to train as normal and should feature. James Milner, meanwhile, has remarkably shaken off the hamstring injury he sustained against Manchester City a fortnight ago and could even start at the John Smith’s Stadium.

On Friday, Klopp was at pains to play down suggestions of a Reds walkover in Yorkshire. Huddersfield enter the game without a win in the league this season, and having failed to so much as score a goal on home soil. Liverpool won both meetings last season comfortably, and the expectation, generally, is that they will do similar this time around.

Such assumptions can be dangerous, however. Particularly when considering the Reds’ recent struggles against teams in the lower reaches of the Premier League.

Swansea vs Liverpool 2017-18

Under Klopp, Liverpool have played nine away matches against teams who started the game in the relegation zone. They have won just two, and none of the last six. In 2018 alone, they have been beaten at Swansea and drawn with a doomed West Brom. They’ve busted a few betting coupons in their time.

“It will not be an easy game,” Klopp insisted at his pre-match press conference. “I cannot ignore the quality of an opponent.”

Earlier, he had spoken of the “trap” of writing this down as three points before a ball is kicked. “If we are at our best then it will be difficult for Huddersfield,” he warned. “But first we have to do it.” He revealed his opposition analyst had told him David Wagner’s side are “much stronger than you would imagine” given their lowly league position.

Klopp, of course, takes a keen interest in Huddersfield’s progress anyway. He and Wagner are close friends - though naturally they have not spoken at all this week – and the Liverpool boss offered a robust defence of his pal’s record – as well as a ‘happy birthday’ - on Friday.

“Getting promoted there, I use the words of a friend, is a miracle,” Klopp said. “Staying in the league is a miracle, and now this year if he stays in the league then he has a hat-trick of miracles!”

As for Liverpool, the question is whether they can rediscover their attacking verve while maintaining their new-found defensive solidity. Should they keep a clean sheet today, they will become the first Reds team to concede just three goals in their opening nine games of a season.

Impressive stuff, especially considering it was this time last year that they were beaten 4-1 at Tottenham, on a day when Dejan Lovren’s embarrassment was such that he was hauled off before half-time. Lovren, revived since, will hope to get the nod to start alongside Van Dijk, though a compelling case can be made for Joe Gomez given his form for club and country.

Dejan Lovren, Liverpool

That, in many ways, sums up Liverpool’s improvement over the past 12 months. The development of Gomez, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, allied to the club’s eye-catching recruitment drive and the enduring qualities of the likes of Milner, Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum, gives the Reds’ squad a far more robust look. It is deeper, stronger, equipped to handle the rigours of the calendar. Certainly more so than it was last season.

Remember back in the spring when injuries bit? Then, Gomez, Joel Matip, Adam Lallana, Emre Can and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all went down in a four-week period, leaving Klopp’s squad decimated. Liverpool started a Merseyside derby at Goodison Park with Dominic Solanke up front, Ragnar Klavan at left-back and a bench containing, in Curtis Jones, Conor Masterson and Rafa Camacho, three members of the club’s under-19 side. Klopp admitted to Goal in the summer that he had his hands over his eyes every time one of his midfielders attempted a sprint that day.

No such worries this time. Even if all five of the Reds’ injury worries this week had been realised, they could still have fielded a strong, experienced side at Huddersfield and have a little bit left in reserve.

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New signings Fabinho and Xherdan Shaqiri are yet to be fully unleashed - Fabinho, Klopp said on Friday, was “close” to a first Premier League start - Daniel Sturridge has looked sharp when called upon and is the club’s joint top scorer this season, while the return to fitness of Lallana and Lovren is well-timed. Others, such as Nathaniel Clyne, Joel Matip and Alberto Moreno, have been used sparingly, while neither Solanke nor Divock Origi have featured at all so far.

Klopp described Liverpool’s last seven games as “the toughest schedule I’d ever heard about”, but the fixtures between now and the next international break look a lot more inviting. Rotation, therefore, is expected.

And with this Liverpool squad, rotation no longer carries the same risk. The Reds look ready to challenge, whoever they choose.

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