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Jurgen Klopp could unleash new-look front three after missed Liverpool opportunity – Theo Squires

Liverpool spent the entire first half of the season knowing that come January, they would be without Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, along with Naby Keita, due to the Africa Cup of Nations.

As a result, it was supposed to be the month Takumi Minamino and Divock Origi showed their worth to the Reds, with the duo set to be given a rare stage to shine on alongside Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino.

Alas, that is not how events unfolded. The Belgian would miss the entire month through injury while the Japan international would miss the start of January with a setback of his own and start just twice in the absence of the African duo.

Still, at least he scored twice even if he would see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Kaide Gordon selected to start ahead of him in Liverpool’s front three during the month.

With Salah and Mane now firmly back at Anfield after facing off in the Africa Cup of Nations final, Luis Diaz signed up after a £49m January move from FC Porto and Harvey Elliott back from long-term injury, Origi and Minamino have ultimately fallen further down the pecking order after their missed mid-season opening.

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However, now they could be given a fresh chance to impress on the eve of the League Cup final with Jota and Firmino, having survived any injuries themselves in January when Salah and Mane were away, now facing a race against time to be fit for Wembley .

Having suffered ankle and muscle injuries against Inter Milan last week respectively, the duo sat out the Reds’ weekend victory over Norwich City and, after missing training on Monday, look set to be absent for the midweek clash with Leeds United too.

Despite their absence, Jurgen Klopp refused to rule them out of the League Cup final showdown with Chelsea, insisting they would be given every chance and assistance to recover in time.

“Yes, it’s too early,” the German said when asked about Firmino and Jota’s availability on Monday.

“I don’t even know if it will be a late decision or not; how I said, it’s too early. I saw them both today, they both look great – but those two always look great.

“We have to see how the specific issues develop but we obviously will try everything.”

Whether they have a realistic chance of recovering in time or if Klopp is just keeping his cards close to his chest in order to play mind games with Chelsea, only the German and his medical staff will know.

But it does leave a potential opening in the Liverpool frontline for their clash with Leeds, if not the League Cup final and beyond too.

Salah, Mane and Diaz were the trio elected to start against Norwich, with the Senegalese stationed through the middle.

In truth, it didn’t really work though with a change of formation following Thiago Alcantara and Origi’s introduction required for the Reds to fight back and beat the Canaries. Diaz swapped roles with Mane to play off the Belgian centrally before being replaced by Minamino late on.

With Klopp making seven changes to his side against Norwich, it would be no surprise if he rotated again against Leeds.

And with one eye on the League Cup final, that could mean a new-look front three – either to rest senior legs ahead of facing Chelsea or trialling a new combination if unconvinced by the triumvirate selected against the Canaries.

As such, Origi, Minamino or even Oxlade-Chamberlain could be handed a Wembley audition in attack when Liverpool take to the field on Wednesday.

With the Belgian out of contract in the summer, he is expected to leave the Reds on a free transfer. Meanwhile, it would be no surprise if Minamino or Oxlade-Chamberlain looked to seek pastures new following limited starting opportunities.

But the summer is a long way off, and with Liverpool still competing on all four fronts, they all have a chance to add to their trophy collection in the near future.

On paper Salah, Mane and Diaz is the Reds’ strongest available attacking trio, but it would be a surprise to see it selected against Leeds given the turnaround ahead of the League Cup final and with doubts about Jota and Firmino’s availability ongoing.



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Therefore expect attacking changes and a potential opening for at least one other Liverpool forward to stake their claim ahead of traveling to Wembley.

Meanwhile, Salah-Mane-Diaz’s initial showings against Norwich could perhaps prompt a tactical rethink from Klopp against Chelsea, given they worked a lot more effectively with Mane on the left and Diaz through the middle.

Admittedly that came following the arrival of Origi and change of formation, suggesting it perhaps isn’t the way to go against Thomas Tuchel’s side if Jota and Firmino remain sidelined.

Klopp will always insist the next game is the most important and the Reds camp aren’t even contemplating the League Cup final until after they have faced Leeds.

But with the latest Liverpool attacking injuries ensuring their front three to face Chelsea is far from a foregone conclusion in the days leading up to the final, the likes of Origi and Minamino could be given fresh opportunity to showcase their credentials.

And while January ultimately proved to be a missed opportunity, they will now both be looking to catch their manager’s eye in training and on the pitch against Leeds ahead of the biggest game of the Reds’ season so far.

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