Liverpool’s 0-0 draw with Bayern Munich on Tuesday becomes a more respectable result when more thought is given to it but, to Jurgen Klopp and his players, the stalemate will have been a disappointment.
The Reds had a handful of golden chances to tilt the tie in their favour ahead of the second leg in March but their finishing was uncharacteristically woeful, with Sadio Mane particularly guilty – the Senegalese scuffed wide from six yards out after the ball fell to him in the box.
Unfortunately for the Merseysiders, there is no respite after that tough game – they face bitter rivals Manchester United in the league this weekend and must bounce back from their Champions League setback. How, though, can the Anfield outfit ensure they instantly return to the level of form that has put them at the forefront of this season’s Premier League title race?
Jordan Henderson’s passing was extremely impressive on Tuesday night and the England international would have recorded one of the assists of the season had Mohamed Salah managed to get more power on his toe-poke once the Liverpool captain looped an inch-perfect, long ball over the top of Bayern’s defence.
While the 28-year-old might not have Paul Pogba’s power, pace, dribbling skills or haircut, his eye for a pass and industry can be huge assets for the Reds if utilised properly.
Since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s arrival at Old Trafford, United fans have become familiar with the sight of Pogba regaining possession in his own half and pinging balls in behind towards an on-rushing Marcus Rashford, whose recent lethality in front of goal has seen the pair strike up a dangerous partnership.
Liverpool have their Rashford in Salah and their Pogba in Henderson. They must look to out-counter their opponents at every opportunity and bypass the midfield.
Klopp has strayed away from his favoured 4-3-3 this season, experimenting with a 4-4-2 and a 4-2-3-1 – if he wants to put another blot on Solskjaer’s United résumé, he must elect to line his players up in the latter on Sunday.
The formation offers far more defensive security and, if Henderson is to start – which he should after playing so well on Tuesday – he will need some help in the middle. The timely return of Virgil van Dijk from suspension means Fabinho can return to his natural position at the base of midfield and the Brazilian’s bite will be essential if the Reds are to negate Pogba.
If Liverpool gained anything from their draw with Bayern, it would be that they need a top-class striker who can put the ball in the back of the net nine times out of ten as, for all their quality, the front three tend to need a hatful of chances to score – luckily enough, they create as many, but in the big games they will get far less.
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Sturridge, whether Liverpool fans like it or not, is the most natural finisher at Anfield and Klopp should give the 26-cap international a shot up front – with Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane around him – at some point in the game.
Divock Origi came off the bench against Bayern but perhaps Sturridge should be the man Klopp calls on in Liverpool’s hour of need. He often only needs half a yard to score and against United, that might be all they are afforded at times.