Liverpool take on Man City for the second time in the space of a week on Saturday in the FA Cup semi-finals as the Reds’ pursuit for an unprecedented quadruple continues. And once again Jurgen Klopp has a fully fit squad to choose from.
Diogo Jota is the only injury doubt for the German, having suffered a knock in their midweek draw with Benfica. But despite some swelling, the Liverpool boss, when speaking at his pre-match press conference, was confident the Portuguese would be passed fit for the trip to Wembley.
“Diogo got a knock which swelled up slightly directly after the game while I was in the press conference,” Klopp told reporters on Thursday. “There’s a good chance he’ll be alright but we have to have a closer look tomorrow. That’s it.”
Should Jota be passed fit then the German will have plenty of tough decisions to make as he ponders his 20-man squad to take on Pep Guardiola’s side. After all, he has called upon the services of 37 different players so far this season with 29 featuring in the FA Cup. And that latter total will rise if Mohamed Salah and/or Joel Matip are selected against Man City.
A look at Klopp’s squad and the players who have played this season, deducting youngsters like Tyler Morton and Kaide Gordon and Neco Williams and Nat Phillips, who both left on loan in January, as well as Rhys Williams who actually hasn’t played after last year’s breakthrough, he has 25 players who you would consider senior options to choose from at Wembley. As a result, five players will be left out of his matchday squad.
Third-choice goalkeeper Adrian is an obvious one but, assuming Jota is passed fit, it leaves the likes of Joe Gomez, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Curtis Jones, Takumi Minamino, Divock Origi and Harvey Elliott vying not to be one of the unfortunate quartet. Of course, this experience is not new to them with the hexet all having to take turns out of the squad in 2022.
In the most high-profile example of such rotation, Gomez and Jones were both left out along with the injured Roberto Firmino and Thiago Alcantara for the Reds’ last trip to Wembley, for the League Cup final against Chelsea in February. Meanwhile, Elliott would have been too had the Spaniard not picked up an injury in the warm-up.
Considering the injury problems Liverpool have suffered in recent reasons, it’s a welcome change for Klopp to boast such options and it was no surprise to label his current squad the strongest of his Anfield reign earlier this week. The Reds’ strength-in-depth has never been stronger.
“Yes (it’s the strongest). Full stop, yes. Since I am here we always had great teams, to be honest, I loved them all,” he told reporters. “But now we have a bigger squad, high quality, all fit, which is the first time since I am here that it is the case, more experience. Quite a few boys are here since I am here, so that means we know much more about each other. Yeah, it’s the strongest team.”
As a result, he could even claim to possess the strongest squad in the Premier League and wrestle such a mantle away from Man City in the process.
Backed by Abu Dhabi billions, Guardiola’s side have been the strongest in terms of overall quality across the park for a number of years. Yet they are lacking the numbers they’ve possessed before this season.
The Spaniard has selected 33 players so far this season, with 25 featuring in the FA Cup. Yet deducting, the sold Ferran Torres, youngsters such as Kayky, Cole Palmer, James McAtee and Liam Diap, as well as Benjamin Mendy, he is left with 20 senior players to choose from.
And while Ruben Dias is poised to return at Wembley, having not been fit to return for last week’s draw with Liverpool at the Etihad, with Kevin De Bruyne and Kyle Walker both doubts to the Reds after suffering injuries in their midweek draw at Atletico Madrid, their options are depleted further.
As a result, Guardiola will either have to name two goalkeepers on the bench, in Zack Steffen and Scott Carson as he did in the Champions League in midweek, or make up his numbers with youngsters. He opted for the latter last Sunday, when without Dias but boasting Walker and De Bruyne, with James McAtee and Romeo Lavia named in reserve.
Meanwhile, Liverpool will certainly be fresher at Wembley too, with Klopp able to name seven changes to his Reds side that drew with Benfica in midweek. Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Fabinho and Thiago came on as substitutes, while Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson and Virgil van Dijk were all left unused with one eye on both clashes with Man City.
In contrast, Guardiola was only able to make two changes in Madrid, with Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez starting in place of the suspended Gabriel Jesus with Raheem Sterling dropping to the bench.
Whether Liverpool are able to make such an advantage count and reach the FA Cup final remains to be seen. After all, while the senior numbers available to Klopp are certainly greater than what Guardiola has on offer, that of course doesn’t guarantee success.
City were arguably the better side over the 180 minutes of league action the two sides have played against each other this season. Not that they were able to find a winner against the Reds though, drawing 2-2 on both occasions as they were unable to be separated.
But with them both fighting for the Premier League title and facing the prospect of facing off in a Champions League final, as well as reaching an FA Cup final at the expense of the other, one of the two sides will see their respective quadruple/treble hopes collapse on Saturday.
Now it’s up to Liverpool to show on the pitch that they do indeed boast the stronger squad, on an occasion where there will be a winner, and prove Klopp right in declaring the Reds’ current ranks as the best he’s ever managed.