Defeat to Wolves in the FA Cup so early in the competition makes planning for the rest of the season that little bit easier. No prospect of replays, no extra matches or schedule changes to deal with.
However, remaining in the Champions League still requires some planning, with it causing short weeks of league-Europe-league matches in quick succession. How many of Klopp’s eggs should he put in each basket?
Liverpool could have been faced with more difficult bookends to their round of 16 clashes with Bayern Munich.
The first leg is the kinder of the two for the Reds. Preceded by a weekend slot for the FA Cup fifth round, Liverpool could be going into their home tie with Bayern having had over a week’s rest.
Playing on Tuesday, the following league fixture is a Sunday trip to Old Trafford to play Manchester United. A crunch match, sure, but one with five days to prepare for (although United play their round of 16 tie the week before, so will have had a full week’s rest going into the game).
Matches come thicker and faster around the second leg, but they’re easier ones to deal with; Burnley at home and Fulham away. Still, with injuries that could pile up (as they have done in defence at the moment) and a thinner squad than title rivals Manchester City, rotating in the Champions League is worth thinking about.
It’s worth thinking about because Manchester City’s fixtures provide an opportunity. Given how prestigious the Champions League is, and the danger of putting all the eggs in one basket, throwing away a chance to progress in Europe isn’t something that should be done lightly.
However, Manchester City may well play an FA Cup tie before their first leg, which is then followed by a trip to Everton — never an easy match. City play their Champions League round of 16 ties in the same weeks as Liverpool meaning that their second leg, the one which the Reds have such easy bookends for, have Watford and Manchester United either side.
— RedsBet (@Reds_Bet) January 9, 2019
The league matches around that second leg could be a great opportunity for Jurgen Klopp and his men to extend their lead at the top of the table.
However, even though Burnley and Fulham look simple on paper, they’re worthy of playing senior players against.
Everyone knows the struggles that the Reds have had against Sean Dyche’s side since they last joined the Premier League. Liverpool have never kept a clean sheet against them and the match is often difficult. Burnley know how to play against big teams, and they’ll need to be broken down.
With Fulham, the threat is less well-known. Although they’re still languishing near the foot of the league, the Cottagers have improved under Claudio Ranieri. They’re still worse than their average opponents, but not as bad as under Slavisa Jokanovic.
Under the Serb, the difference in Fulham’s open-play expected goals and their opponents’ averaged at -0.97 per match. Since the change of manager, they’ve averaged an expected goals difference of -0.5. Not stunning, but it’s approaching mid-table quality, rather than relegation fodder.
And Bayern Munich may have been struggling in the Bundesliga this season, but that doesn’t mean that they’re there for the taking.
Their expected goals difference per game this season is actually marginally better than Liverpool’s (+1.34 vs +1.14). Arguments about the respective strengths of the leagues can rage all night, but the bottom line is that even this season’s Bayern is nothing to be trifled with.
It’s not an easy decision to make, and there’s risk involved either way, but there’s an argument to be made that Klopp should put out weakened sides in the Champions League in order to focus on bringing home the first league title to Anfield in nearly three decades.
*odds subject to change
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by Tom Bodell