How does Jurgen Klopp tackle his Trent vs Bradley conundrum?

Last summer, imagine being told that Conor Bradley would be hard to oust from Liverpool's starting XI during the business end of a Premier League title race.

It is a scenario that would have sounded highly unlikely, at best, with the Northern Irishman making just five appearances before the campaign started, all of which came back in 2021/22.

Bradley has enjoyed one of the fastest rises of any young Liverpool player under Jurgen Klopp, however, going from promising starlet to key squad player in an extremely short space of time.

There have always been glimpses of the 20-year-old's quality, but in a few short months, he has become a formidable performer who has produced some outstanding displays from right-back.

It isn't even hyperbole to say that Bradley's performance in the 4-1 victory at home to Chelsea back in January remains one of the best by an individual all season, with a goal and two assists coming his way, not putting a foot wrong at the same time.

He has appeared 18 times overall in 2023/24 to date, and there has been such maturity to his play, arguably defending with more focus than Trent Alexander-Arnold can at times - he has made no errors leading to a goal, compared to two for Trent - but also attacking with genuine power and end product.

Bradley feels like a combination of Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, and if you have the best attributes from those two Liverpool heroes, you're pretty well set for a big career in the game.

The highest praise you can pay Bradley is that he has made Alexander-Arnold's absence be nowhere near as problematic as it could have been, at a time when the latter has had to watch on from the treatment room after suffering a knee issue.

Liverpool's vice-captain could easily have been a huge loss through injury in recent times, considering he is one of the world's leading creative players, but he actually hasn't been missed a great amount, with Klopp's men battling on impressively without him.

Klopp's conundrum

The conundrum that Klopp now has to tackle is what to do when Alexander-Arnold returns to the fray, which is expected to be soon after club football returns after the international break.

Whether he is back for Sunday's visit of Brighton in the Premier League is up for debate, but the trip to Manchester United the following weekend could see him return.

Liverpool v Chelsea - Premier League - Anfield Liverpool s Trent Alexander-Arnold and Conor Bradley after the Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool. Picture date: Wednesday January 31, 2024. Copyright: xPeterxByrnex 75209270

Liverpool are heading into a defining ten-game run in the title battle, as they look to ensure that Klopp bows out in style, and there is the obvious risk that the Reds' returning right-back could be undercooked in terms of match fitness.

To be thrown straight back in after not featuring at all since early February brings risks with it, even though there is an obvious urge to get such a world-class footballer back on the pitch as soon as possible.

In Bradley, Liverpool now have someone who feels genuinely settled in the team and who understands the demands being asked of him, so retaining him in the starting lineup while Alexander-Arnold works his way to full sharpness has clear merits.

Much like Jarell Quansah this season, nothing seems to faze the Northern Ireland international, who has hurdled every challenge before him with ease, with Klopp saying on him earlier in the season: "I'm not sure if Conor Bradley makes it home. He might fall asleep in the dressing room, exceptional. What a boy, a fantastic character, with intelligence, top potential.

"And he's in the right team because everybody loves him, everybody respects him, everybody wants him to succeed so it was a great game with all the difficulties of every football game."

That being said, a Premier League title run-in is another level of pressure and expectation, so while Bradley deserves to have huge faith shown in him by Klopp and the supporters, these spring months can do funny things to any player.

For that reason, getting Alexander-Arnold back into the team still feels like the most logical option - just doubting that that should be the case feels ludicrous, given his class, but that is testament to the remarkable strides that Bradley has made this season.

Trent the difference maker

Ultimately, a fit Alexander-Arnold is one of the Premier League's most influential players, with his vision arguably matched only by Kevin De Bruyne. He sees passes that very few individuals on the planet see, and are capable of pulling off.

We all know that defending doesn't always come completely naturally to him, even though much of the criticism that comes his way is laughable, but he is a unique talent who has helped Liverpool win so many big games down the years.

In these remaining matches in the league, and in Europa League knockout matches for that matter, the 25-year-old can be a difference-maker in whether the Reds get over the finish line, so he has to be on the pitch as much as possible.

Resigning Bradley to the substitutes' bench would feel harsh, considering it is hard to single of a single big mistake he has made since coming into the team, but football is ruthless at times and the very best players at Anfield need to be featuring prominently if they are fit and available.

Klopp does now have the luxury of having two exceptional right-back options, which has rarely if ever been the case during his time as manager, and given the intensity and regularity of some of the upcoming fixtures, using both will also allow him to keep them fresh.

Easing Alexander-Arnold back in with cameo appearances makes sense to begin with, but once he has found his stride, putting him back in the starting XI is a no-brainer.

The hope is that the situation adds as extra motivation for both players, which can only be a good thing for Liverpool.

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