Often you’ll hear pundits stress that it is essential a manager knows his best XI. In the case of Liverpool, the front three picks itself, but Jurgen Klopp has relentlessly chopped and changed elsewhere in search of the optimum line-up.
The midfield has been somewhat of a revolving door, while the full-back duos of Trent Alexander-Arnold/Joe Gomez and Andy Robertson/Alberto Moreno are in virtually constant rotation. Most remarkably of all, perhaps, the manager has vacillated between two different number one ‘keepers over the course of the season.
After the big-money arrival of long-term target Virgil van Dijk, however, Klopp can settle on a seemingly top-class leader to sit at the heart of his defence. You would imagine that the towering Dutchman is already one of the first names on the team-sheet.
But in the months before Klopp is able to have another crack at remedying this debilitating weakness in the transfer market, who should play alongside him?
At the start of the season, the answer would have seemed fairly clear-cut given Joel Matip’s relatively solid and trouble-free first year at Anfield.
Predictably, though, the defensive frailties which we politely overlooked last term have now left him vulnerable to criticism. The once revered centre-half finds himself under increasingly close scrutiny as the first widespread doubts begin to emerge.
Few would dispute that Matip is fundamentally a good defender, subjectively better than Ragnar Klavan or Dejan Lovren when at his best but just as unreliable.
There have been a number of costly slip-ups over the course of the season, and the Cameroonian’s lacklustre performance against West Brom in the FA Cup will no doubt be fresh in fans minds.
Far from strong and commanding, he was weak and submissive. The certain confidence and elegance about his play when on form began to look like an alarming arrogance.
So we can see that betting on these matches can be tricky. If you choose to bet on the FA Cup or any other match, you should first consider who will be the favorite in that match. Many online betting sites are offering attractive odds on their apps, even for West Brom who were considered as underdogs. Therefore, you should look first about tactics, first line-ups and predictions before placing a bet.
The 26-year-old was forced to bear the brunt of the blame for his side’s premature exit and was compelled to publicly acknowledge his failings. However admirable that may be, the error-strewn display represented the latest dent to supporters’ gradually declining confidence.
Maybe, the Lovren-Van Dijk partnership, which rebuffed waves of Spurs pressure last time out and was encouragingly solid for the most part, is the way to go. Yes, both players were partly culpable for the two penalties, but it’s safe to say the officials were the guiltiest party.
It is difficult not to feel for Lovren, whose Liverpool career has been defined by a few costly, admittedly embarrassing gaffes. His 2017/18 season, for instance, will be likely be remembered chiefly for his Wembley horror show.
But his response to that dreadful outing has been commendable to say the least and he has proven himself a solid defender nine times out of ten.
A club of this stature demands perfection, but, as with many current players, the tremendous abuse he receives is massively excessive.
A look at the statistics proves Lovren and Matip to be closely-matched.
The former averages 3.8 victories in aerial duels per game, relative to just 2.1 for Matip, and clears the ball far more effectively, but his passes go astray more often and he makes marginally fewer tackles and blocks in each match.
Liverpool have unquestionably been found lacking in this department and the situation is far from ideal, but the much-maligned defenders must be backed.
It seems as if a run in the team could allow Lovren to recover that vital confidence and showcase his oft-forgotten qualities.
Klavan finds himself in a similar situation. Personally, I have never considered him good enough, but I will accept that it is difficult to find significant fault with the vast majority of his performances.
This season, he has started to look like the no-nonsense, mature centre-half we were promised upon his arrival.
He and Lovren are arguably on a par with one another, but he might be handicapped by Van Dijk’s preference for the left side of the defence, where the Estonian international traditionally plays.
Nevertheless, fans have begun to take to him and he is nearing ‘cult hero’ status, even if that is more the result of his Samba swagger than his performances.
All of a sudden, the battle for a starting spot looks a great deal more competitive than many would have expected.
And what about Joe Gomez? It seems as if he’ll be made to wait until the return of Nathaniel Clyne before a run in his desired central role, but that is not necessarily a bad thing as he continues his development.
In typical young starlet fashion, he’s been outstanding in some games but erratic in others. His concentration and discipline simply must be improved.
But he clearly has immense potential, and it is conceivable that a partnership of Gomez and Van Dijk is Klopp’s long-term vision.
For the moment, though, he finds himself with a selection headache. Van Dijk looks to be on another level, but the reputation of his other options has suddenly converged. Opinions on each fluctuate by the game.
This manager is not afraid to take risks, and it is genuinely difficult to predict who would he back on the very biggest occasion. Does he hope for the best of Matip, give Lovren a shot at redemption or go for the underwhelming, yet solid Klavan?
If we are to achieve some form of stability at long last, that tricky decision must be made soon.