Liverpool v Man Utd: How many title races have they had?
Paul Merson has told Jurgen Klopp that Thiago Alcantara must now start every week for Liverpool, with the champions looking to get their title charge back on track. The Reds host the new Premier League leaders Manchester United on Sunday, looking to reclaim their place at the Premier League summit.
But the pivotal clash comes at a bad time for Klopp’s side, who have failed to win their last three league games, scoring just one goal in the process.
Summer signing Thiago has endured a frustrating start to his Liverpool career after arriving from Bayern Munich in the summer.
Initially missing time after testing positive coronavirus, the Spaniard was then sidelined for two months with a knee injury he picked up in the Merseyside derby vs Everton back in October.
He made his long awaited return against Newcastle last month and has been building his match fitness back up, starting in the defeat to Southampton last week.
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Merson believes that Liverpool need Thiago in midfield in order to get their trio of forwards back in goalscoring form.
“Liverpool are struggling without that guile in midfield,” Merson told Sky Sports. “They’ll need Thiago to play every week. He’s the one who sees that pass.
“I think Jurgen Klopp knows this now, because he’s even bringing Xherdan Shaqiri in, someone who you’d have previously thought might not play another minute for Liverpool. But he can put the ball through the eye of a needle.
“Without that, it takes the Sadio Mane, Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino X-factor out of the game. Liverpool are still the best in the world without the ball, but when there’s no space there, it gets taken away.
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“Thiago must play every week. He can see that pass, and we’ve seen evidence of that in a couple of games. It might not always come off, but he sees it.”
Liverpool’s midfield has been seriously disturbed this season, with Klopp forced to use Fabinho as an emergency centre-back amidst their defensive injury crisis.
The Brazilian has deputised for Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez, both of whom are expected to miss significant portions of the season.
Joel Matip is also a major doubt for the clash with United, after picking up an adductor strain at the end of December.
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The defender missed training on Wednesday, leaving him in a race against time to register the two full sessions Klopp requires of all his starters.
Jordan Henderson was even forced to move back against the Saints, with Merson believing the ‘unsung heroes’ taken out of Liverpool’s midfield are beginning to have an impact.
He added: “What team in the world aren’t going to miss Jordan Henderson and Fabinho in midfield? It’s hard when you’re taking those players out of the midfield.
“Liverpool’s midfield have always made everything happen – they are the unsung heroes. Without them, I don’t think anything happens at Liverpool.
“They protect the back four, they let the full-backs bomb on, and they let the front three do what they want.”
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