Jurgen Klopp’s Man Utd plan could set stall out for Liverpool’s title resurgence
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It's hardly been perfect preparation for Liverpool ahead of their biggest game of the season to date.
After thrashing Crystal Palace 7-0 prior to Christmas, the reigning champions have suffered somewhat of a festive hangover since.
And it's not just the results which have been the problem, but the manner of the performances in those matches which have knocked their title charge slightly off course.
The Reds have lacked a spark, any sort of urgency, and been bereft of ideas at times; three components you would struggle to associate them with at any point in Jurgen Klopp's reign thus far.
Even Friday's 4-1 win over Aston Villa's youth team in the FA Cup had alarm bells ringing at half-time following a tired and laboured opening 45 minutes.
But Klopp has a plan. And it couldn't have come at a better time for Liverpool.
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As for only the second time since mid-September, Liverpool's players now have more than a week between matches.
They welcome Man Utd to Anfield on Sunday after nine days rest, while their rivals still have to navigate a trip to Burnley on Tuesday.
Liverpool may well go into the fixture trailing United in the table – should the Red Devils collect all three points at Turf Moor – but have the whole week leading up to the clash to prepare.
And Klopp plans to put his side through their paces to help bring them back up to speed after a lacklustre spell.
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It's been an extremely interesting start to the season for Jurgen Klopp's men.
They got their title defence off to a shaky start as they edged out a seven-goal thriller against Leeds, before going on to conceded seven in a hammering by Aston Villa.
Virgil van Dijk's season was ended by injury in the 2-2 draw at Everton, leaving the title favourites looking far less secure at the back – especially with Alisson's injury worries too.
But there's no slowing down in what is going to be a busy campaign – with Klopp ensuring his men continue at full pace as they bid for more title glory.
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"Now we have something like a little pre-season for the rest of the season," said Klopp (via the Echo ).
"We will do a lot of 11 v 11 stuff because that's something a lot of the boys didn't have for a while.
"We will use that time now."
Given one of the two periods of more than a week without a game coincided with Christmas – and Klopp giving his players two days off – Liverpool have barely had any time in their packed schedule to implement a more intense training programme.
Joel Matip is expected to return against Man Utd after three weeks out
(Image: Pool via REUTERS)
This is also on the backdrop of a pre-season which only lasted two weeks after the longest campaign in recent memory and a subsequent fortnights break in between.
Any professional will tell you there is no substitute for a full pre-season, and anything other can often leave players chasing.
Admittedly that was the case for all clubs, though, not just Liverpool.
In fact Liverpool had the fortune of being ahead of their rivals in that respect, with Man Utd and Man City both finishing their seasons later due to European action.
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But Klopp has since had to juggle the troublesome injury crisis which has dogged his side throughout the start to the campaign.
Now is the time for them to get ahead of the game again, or at the very least reset and start afresh.
The gap between fixtures should be enough time to allow Joel Matip to return to fitness, immediately making Liverpool stronger at the back than in recent fixtures.
In addition, those players who have nursed injuries during the opening months of the season will be given an opportunity to improve their fitness levels for the back half of the campaign.
That includes Trent Alexander-Arnold, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Thiago Alcantara and James Milner, among others.
Klopp will no doubt also be hoping the week of conditioning will re-energise his front three, who have looked sluggish in recent weeks.
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The likes of Thiago can get back up to speed with some intense training
(Image: Getty Images)
Of course, there is only so much you can do in such a short space of time, with Liverpool soon packing in two fixtures a week again, but the nine-day layoff could prove pivotal to getting them back on track, particularly ahead of a period which could well shape their season.
After United they welcome Burnley, before a tough trip to Tottenham, followed by fixtures against West Ham, then Brighton, prior to a crunch clash with title rivals Man City.
Klopp has harped on about the need for more time between fixtures in regular rants at the scheduling and concerns over player welfare.
This time, against United at least, there can be little excuse.