Rob Gutmann’s preview ahead of Watford v Liverpool at Vicarage Road, with Jurgen Klopp limited by more post-international break absentees…


SO begins a four-game Liverpool FC tour.

All of the upcoming fixtures are away from Anfield’s home comforts. Another potentially defining phase of the season before us. These remain exciting times and it is wise for us to keep reminding ourselves of this truth.

International breaks are always testing. Testing on patience and nerve shredding while we wait to number our fit personnel in the run up to resumption of domestic fixtures. We now know that Alisson Becker, Fabinho and Curtis Jones are the latest to be claimed by the break. Additionally, Thiago is not yet in full training.

Should Jurgen Klopp be looking principally for freshness. He has a cadre of lads whom were not required by their countries, for varying reasons, that will be chomping at bits to see action. Those main men without a competitive game for at least a fortnight number Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joe Gomez, Ibrahima Konate, Joel Matip, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, James Milner and Bobby Firmino.

Additionally, Jordan Henderson and Diogo Jota barely featured for their international teams, though the latter was sent home early as an injury precaution.

Front men Sadio Mane and the on-fire Mohammed Salah both saw plenty of action for Senegal and Egypt respectively, but both were home and hosed by Wednesday and will be considered rested sufficiently to face Watford.

Let’s pick Klopp’s team for him then. I think Kelleher has to be given his stripes. He’s a cocky one and we need to find out if we can rely on him in real games. Having a rookie in goal will shred all of our nerves, but I think our boy can calm them.

The rest of the back five picks itself. Trent is fit again, Robbo doesn’t know what the word ‘rest’ means, and Virgil van Dijk has it in his contract that Joel Matip partners him, unless Joel and his dodgy but brilliant long legs says otherwise. 

Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk (L) and Joel Matip during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Burnley FC at Anfield

The front three could be a front four, but either way Klopp will be delighted to have his full spectrum of attacking talents available. There was a sweat on Diogo Jota’s fitness but he’s now trained and all fears of an enforced absence allayed. It’s just the midfield that remains a quandary. Fabinho won’t play and Jordan Henderson must therefore anchor. It’s a role he’s more than capable in.

Two weeks ago Watford were lambs to the slaughter. Now they’ve changed manager and have therefore morphed into something else. It could be a better incarnation of themselves or an even more fragile one. Who can tell? Least of all, new boss, the veteran magician, Claudio Ranieri.

How do Watford’s tribulations affect Jurgen Klopp’s midfield considerations? Well, if he thinks the new manager ‘bounce’, allied with a feisty defiant home crowd, makes Watford a potential proverbial ‘handful’ then he may choose to populate his midfield with ball winners. Enter Naby Keita and James Milner.

The Liverpool boss could, though, choose to treat all possible variants of Watford as not dissimilar imposters and opt for a formation geared towards blowing them away. In this scenario he’s thinking – Henderson as ‘the six’ and adding two number eights. The options for those ‘eight’ roles are the versatile Keita and Alex Chamberlain. To my mind, Keita is the no brainer. He can defend and attack.

I will be travelling to support The Reds in this tricky post international break endeavour, and I will deign to go south with plenty of hope in my heart.

I miss The Reds every day that we are apart and, much as I despise these godawful breaks, they do make my heart grow that touch fonder.

Into these, Liverpool. We’ve toyed with the new season thus far, now is the time to get busy.

Predicted 11: Kelleher; Trent, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Keita, Milner; Salah, Firmino, Mane

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