Liverpool could face an attacking dilemma ahead of Merseyside derby

Liverpool return to action with a bang this weekend in the first Merseyside derby of the season.

The Reds have once again been chosen to take the Premier League's early kick-off slot on Saturday directly following an international break – the 13th of Jurgen Klopp's tenure at Anfield. No other side has had more than six in the same time period.

That tally will soon jump to 14, with Liverpool also selected for a lunch-time fixture against Manchester City after next month's internationals.

The Reds record is famously (and understandably) patchy in the dreaded 12:30 Saturday time slot (played six, won zero last season) – though Klopp and co did exercise some demons with a 3-1 win over Wolves back in September.

Despite the hard-fought victory, that game caused plenty of headaches for Liverpool.

Alexis Mac Allister was hooked at half time with Klopp admitting that the Argentina international, who had played in high-altitude Bolivia just three days before, was 'exhausted'.

Klopp said after the game: "He was done. Yellow card and he was exhausted in the first half already.

"We know how good Alexis is, in the first half his decision-making... we saw during the week when he had the oxygen mask on, I thought a couple of times they should have left it on a little bit longer – that would have helped maybe! It was just tough.

"He was not really disappointed when we took him off. I think he was rather relieved."

Meanwhile, Darwin Nuñez and Luis Diaz – the Reds two other South American outfield stars – only appeared off the bench after their midweek travel and lack of preparation time.

Alexis Mac Allister, ProShots

Liverpool face a potentially even more challenging selection situation ahead of the Merseyside derby – and not just because of Andy Robertson's unfortunate shoulder injury.

Mac Allister, Diaz and Nuñez all played 90 minutes in the early hours of Wednesday morning (BST) in the latest round of World Cup qualifiers and will miss most, if not all, of the week's pre-match preparation at the AXA training centre.

More worryingly, Nuñez admitted to feeling 'cramp' at the end of the match as the in-form striker took a starring role in his country's first win over neighbours Brazil since 2001.

Klopp's gamble to start Mac Allister under similar circumstances a month ago did not pay off and he may want to be more cautious for the high-octane, physical encounter that the derby nearly always is.

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Despite the running debate over Liverpool's best option at the base of midfield, Klopp does have options there, with Wataru Endo possibly in line for a rare start. However, Liverpool's attacking depth will take a serious hit if Nuñez and Diaz are not fit to start.

Cody Gakpo was in the starting XI for September's win over Wolves – netting the Reds' equaliser after 55 minutes – and would be the obvious option to lead the line under normal circumstances.

The Dutchman, though, is still recovering from the knee injury he sustained in the defeat to Tottenham last month.

Klopp has previously played down fears that the 24-year-old's issue is a serious one, and even pencilled in Everton's visit as a potential return date. However, throwing in Gakpo – who sat out international duty – too soon could be a gamble.

Young Ben Doak also picked up a knock while with the Scotland Under-21s, meaning Diogo Jota (thankfully back after a one-game ban) and Mohamed Salah, then, are Liverpool's only two first-team attackers without an asterisk of doubt next to their names, with fans eagerly awaiting any updates from Klopp's press conference this Friday.

Unless the manager decides to tinker and move one of Dominik Szoboszlai or Harvey Elliott into a more advanced role, the odds are that at least one of Diaz, Nuñez or Gakpo will have to be risked from the start despite the possible fitness concerns.

It is far from ideal, but these are the challenges posed by the post-internationals early kick off.

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