Selecting the starting lineup for the key games to end the season - by Jason Harris
Let's admit it, as football fans, we love to be armchair experts. An after match phone-in wouldn’t be complete without a angry caller saying his manager got the team selection totally wrong and cost them victory.
The manager would be well within reason to respond- ‘Well if it were so simple why don’t you have a go?’
As we have entered the final phase of the season, I thought it would be a bit of fun to put that theory to the test by stepping into the shoes of Jurgen Klopp by selecting your ideal starting XI for the key fixtures that lie ahead.
These games include the Champions League quarter-final (and hopefully beyond) and aiming to seal our spot in the top four.
These are the moments where careers are made, and in some cases remembered for the wrong reasons, and it really comes down to who you trust to get the job done.
The key thing to remember about this task is that everyone in the squad is fit and ready for selection.
So here it goes.
Goalkeeper: Loris Karius
Karius had to fill the unenviable role as the deputy goalkeeper for the first half of the league season, but Klopp kept his focus sharp by playing him in the group stages of the Champions League.
The chopping and changing between Karius and Simon Mignolet had some critics, but with 2018 on the horizon, Klopp made the big call to endorse his fellow German as the new Number 1 between the sticks. As a player, it would mean the world to win the approval of the boss and to his credit, Karius has not let anyone down
Once a player who was indecisive even when doing the basics (like clearing the ball up the pitch), the confidence of Karius has grown to such an extent where you are bound to see him make a couple of key saves per game and his overall command of the area has improved markedly.
No more rotation is required in this position, Karius remains from now until the end of the season.
Defence: Nathaniel Clyne, Joel Matip, Virgil Van Dijk, Andrew Robertson
The right-back position has been a fascinating one to observe all season as first choice Clyne has missed the whole campaign through injury. It has presented an ideal opportunity for youngsters Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold to get priceless experience in the league and in Europe, and for the most part they have more than held their own.
However, the game against Man United exposed a defensive weakness in Alexander-Arnold's game and highlighted the need for a more experienced player to fill the role when the pressure is at its highest and with Clyne now returning to full fitness he is the man for the job.
This is far from being a slight on the ability of the 19-year-old as it has been a real highlight to see Klopp give him the opportunity. With his natural aerobic and growing technical ability, he will certainly improve further next season and in time, could easily fill that much debated defensive midfield role.
While the selections of Van Dijk and Robertson are both no-brainers, I believe it is time for Matip to be Van Dijk's partner at the heart of the defence. Dejan Lovren is the definition of a tease, just when you think he may have finally got his act together, he puts in a performance like he did against Man United. He simply cannot be trusted when the pressure is on. In contrast, I think Matip has shown enough positive signs in his time at the club to believe that he will blossom further in partnership with the big Dutchman.
Midfield: Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Personally, the selection of the midfield pairing provided the biggest conundrum. You could probably put all the names in a hat and get a completely different trio to what I came up with. To be truthful, there isn't a lot of difference and it all comes down to personal preference.
A raft of injuries over the past two and a half seasons has meant that we have not seen the best of Jordan Henderson in the leadership role bestowed on him after the retirement of Steven Gerrard. Whether he is the right man to continue in the role post this season is a conversation for another time.
What is a known fact is he is currently in possession of the armband and therefore it is his role to lead his men out onto the pitch. With the absence of a true holding midfielder, I would back Henderson to fill this role, something he did impressively in the first half of last season and at times during this season.
What you see is what you get with James Milner, which is a wholehearted performer, who very rarely puts in a shocker. While he is not the quickest player at this stage of his career, he makes up for with a very good footballing brain, knowing when to make the right pass at the right time, as well as having a tremendous work ethic and a great deal of adaptability.
Nothing separated the duo of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Adam Lallana, but I favoured the ex-Arsenal man due to his excellent last six weeks where he has really come into his own. His match conditioning also gives him the edge over Lallana, although there have been some very encouraging signs from the England international in his last few appearances.
Forwards: Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane
No surprises here, as Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane are arguably the most feared attacking trio in the league. While they are not immune to having their off days as the game against Man United showed, it only takes one piece of magic to turn the game on its head.
So there we have it, no doubt the selections will change for each individual, but that is the beauty of being a supporter. A big bonus is that we have some good options especially in midfield, which was not the case in previous seasons.
Having taken the selectors cap off, we can now sit back and let the players do the work and bask in all their glory.