Jürgen Klopp has been juggling his starting line-up all season amid an injury crisis at Liverpool. So dire has been the situation that players like Fabinho and Jordan Henderson have had to play out of position for several months.
In the final stretch of what has been a difficult campaign, Liverpool still aspires towards Champions League glory. And although Klopp is missing some key figures and his team is far from the phenomenal side they were over the past two years, the Reds will face Real Madrid with plenty of belief that they can overcome the Spanish Champions after their commanding 4-0 aggregate win over Leipzig in the last-16 tie.
Liverpool: Who is out of Real Madrid clash?
Liverpool’s four confirmed casualties for the tie against Real Madrid are Virgil Van Dijk, Joel Matip, Joe Gomez and Jordan Henderson – namely, three centre-backs and a midfielder who has had to play as a centre back due to the absence of defenders.
While Matip and Gomez will be out for the remainder of the season, there is also very little hope that Van Dijk could be back before the summer – with Klopp claiming it would take a “miracle”.
Henderson, meanwhile, is expected to be back in mid-April, meaning he could possibly be available for the second leg against Madrid at Anfield.
Who will be Klopp’s central defensive pairing?
Following his recovery after a month on the side-lines, Fabinho has returned to his favoured midfield role. The Brazilian had been acting as Van Dijk’s stand in at the back after the injury to the Dutch central defender. But after impressing in the two legs against Leipzig in his preferred number 6 position, Fabinho will likely stay in that role against Real Madrid.
His performance guarantees him a place in front of the defensive line, meaning all indications are that Klopp’s chosen central defensive pairing will be Nat Phillips and Ozan Kabak, the latter of whom arrived in the January transfer market from Schalke, with Liverpool having the option to buy the 20-year-old Turk. For his part, Phillips is a more classic defender and at 23 has the opportunity of his life to prove himself at the highest level. His magnificent performances against Leipzig guarantee him a starting position against Real Madrid.
The return of Diogo Jota
Diogo Jota has featured in all three games – starting two — since he returned from the injury that caused him to miss every game between December and February. Although he has only played 21 games with Liverpool, with most of his initial appearances coming off the bench, his scoring impact allowed him to make his way into Klopp’s eleven, sometimes even alongside Firmino, Salah and Mané.
With 10 goals in 21 games, the last of which came against in Liverpool’s last league outing against Wolves (0-1), the former Atlético Madrid player is an offensive wild card who could be one of the main threats to Zidane’s men.