Klopp can shuffle pack at the back despite injuries

Andy Robertson has committed his next five years to Liverpool after he was awarded a new deal by the club. The Scot has been a key cog in the Reds' defence, while also contributing four assists at the other end of the pitch.
Andy Robertson has committed his next five years to Liverpool after he was awarded a new deal by the club. The Scot has been a key cog in the Reds' defence, while also contributing four assists at the other end of the pitch.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • While an untimely series of injuries has left Jurgen Klopp short-handed at the back, the Liverpool manager knows in Fabinho, he has a player as comfortable in defence as he is in midfield.

Trent Alexander-Arnold joined a growing casualty list after suffering a knee injury during last weekend's 1-0 win at Brighton, and could be out for up to a month. The decision to loan Nathaniel Clyne to Bournemouth for the season has been questioned, with Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren still working their way back to fitness.

But, while Joel Matip is expected to be back in the squad for today's Premier League game at home to Crystal Palace since fracturing his collarbone during their Champions League win over Napoli on Dec 11, Klopp can afford to resist throwing him into the fray given Fabinho's "defensive brain".

It has taken the Brazil midfielder, signed in the summer for £39 million (S$68.4 million), time to adapt to English football. He made his league debut only in October, but Klopp never had any doubts the "brilliant player" would become a vital cog as Liverpool chase their first league title in 29 years.

The German said: "To have a good footballer in that position when you have the ball is great. He can play in a lot of positions."

The 25-year-old, who was instrumental alongside Virgil van Dijk in defence as the Reds kept a 13th clean sheet in 22 league games at the Amex Stadium to maintain a four-point cushion over champions Manchester City, also saw his switch to "centre-back coming".

He told the club website: "Some weeks ago, I knew this could be an option because we had some players injured. I had some training sessions playing in that position, which helped me adapt better and pick up aspects like positioning and movements."

Another player who will have a key role in helping the table-toppers maintain the league's best defensive record - only 10 goals conceded - against Roy Hodgson's men is left-back Andy Robertson.

The Scotland captain was rewarded on Thursday with a new contract until 2024, after a string of fine performances to cement his starting position in the team.

Klopp said the 24-year-old, who "screams Liverpool", put pen to paper "in almost record time", and Robertson revealed the decision was a "no-brainer".

He said: "I want to stay. As soon as they put an offer on the table, it was signed as quickly as that."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2019, with the headline 'Klopp can shuffle pack at the back despite injuries'. Print Edition | Subscribe