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Mane to return & a season debut for Reds’ strongest XI?


After a two-week break Liverpool are back in Premier League action with a trip to Norwich, where we could see the return of Sadio Mane.

After dispatching Southampton 4-0 at the start of the month, Jurgen Klopp and his chargers jetted off around the world to enjoy the Premier League’s first sanctioned winter break.

In the meantime, however, Neil Critchley and the club’s youngest-ever side secured an unforgettable 1-0 win over Shrewsbury to book the Reds’ place in the fifth round of the FA Cup.

But with Liverpool’s senior figures all returning to the fold, normal service has been resumed as top meets bottom in the topflight.

Klopp has a near-full squad at his disposal and will be presented with a number of selection headaches as the Reds look to clinch their 25th win from 26 games.

Here’s how Liverpool could look to set up in Norfolk on Saturday evening.

 

Team News

Since emerging from the festive period whereby a host of key figures were sidelined, Liverpool have an all but full complement of players to select from.

Prior to the break, Klopp was without only Sadio Mane (hamstring), James Milner (hamstring) and Xherdan Shaqiri (calf).

But after a timely two-week breather, it is only the latter who has yet to return to full training, having seen just a moment of action in the Reds’ last seven league games, which came at the death in the win over Tottenham in January.

Moreover, with Fabinho and Naby Keita having each returned to the fold in recent weeks, Klopp has an abundance of options in the middle of the park.

The returning duo of both Mane and Milner are in “contention” for a place in the side, where the latter could be forced into a periphery role for the time being.

The winter break offered a chance for the entire squad to clear up a number of knocks or minor niggles ahead of the second half of the season, one which sees the Reds play, on average, a game every four days up until the March international break.

And with a near-full squad to pick from, Klopp has a number of decisions to make as he prepares for two games in three days.

 

Liverpool’s XI vs. Norwich

With few injuries and no suspensions to consider, Klopp could field what is arguably Liverpool’s strongest XI for the first time this season.

It would see the back five remain intact, with Alisson sitting behind Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joe Gomez, Virgil van Dijk and Andy Robertson – with a 12th clean sheet the objective against a side who have netted just 24 league goals to date, the joint-second lowest in the division.

With Fabinho well and truly back in the mix after his first start in over two months against Southampton, he would occupy the No. 6 role to see Jordan Henderson moved back into an advanced position alongside Gini Wijnaldum.

And despite two goals in as many games and five successive league starts, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be squeezed out to pave the way for Mane’s return.

Liverpool’s No. 10 will be eager to reclaim his title as the club’s leading goalscorer after Mohamed Salah moved three ahead in his absence, with the duo linking back up alongside Roberto Firmino for the clash.

Remarkably, this would be the first time this XI has featured together in a game this season across all competitions, in what is a frightening prospect for the opposition:

Alisson; Trent, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Salah, Mane, Firmino


On the other hand, the boss could err on the side of caution and hold Mane back for the trip to Atletico Madrid on Tuesday.

The Reds have proven they have more than enough firepower in his absence and, after spending over two weeks on the sidelines with a hamstring injury, there is no need to rush him back into the XI as an appearance late in the piece should be more than adequate.

This would enable Oxlade-Chamberlain to retain his place alongside Salah and Firmino, sitting ahead of a midfield trio of Fabinho, Henderson and Wijnaldum – the same side who turned on the afterburners against the Saints.

The back five would, of course, remain the same having conceded just one goal in their last eight games as a defensive unit:

Alisson; Trent, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Salah, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Firmino


With two games in three days, which includes an all-important European clash, it is important for the team, and most notably Fabinho and Mane, to find their rhythm after the winter break.

Norwich won’t prove easy-going on their own turf, but the meeting with the league’s cellar-dwellers is one where all three points should be collected irrespective of the decision Klopp makes as to how to tackle the fixture in view of the days and weeks ahead.



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