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Klopp feels squeeze as leaders Leicester loom




Jurgen Klopp’s most significant challenge as Liverpool manager at the moment is figuring out how to manage his squad in the face of an ever-expanding fixture list.

Having played nine games in January -– more than any other Premier League team –- Klopp’s side’s trip to leaders Leicester City on Tuesday is the first of at least seven matches in February.

That tally will rise to eight if they beat West Ham United in next week’s FA Cup fourth-round replay.

Saturday’s 0-0 draw against the Hammers was Liverpool’s 37th fixture of the campaign, and it is mathematically possible that they could end up playing 69 competitive matches this season.

With that in mind, Klopp rested as many of his senior players as he possibly could at the weekend, making 10 changes to the side who had secured a League Cup final place by overcoming Stoke City on penalties at Anfield four days earlier.

Teenager Cameron Brannagan, making only his fourth senior start, took the opportunity to make a positive impression against West Ham, as did other players with limited experience such as fellow midfielders Kevin Stewart and Joao Teixeira and full-back Brad Smith.

But Klopp has indicated that he will return to his tried and trusted senior players to face Leicester.

“Those players are in our squad because they are an option for us,” Klopp said. “But we have to decide if it is the right moment or not.

“Young lads often have waves in their development. They have ups and downs, and if you bring them in at the wrong moment, then it’s not too good for their development.

“They have time to develop. That’s the best thing. They have enough pressure. You don’t need to make that pressure bigger.”

One player set to retain his place is central defender Dejan Lovren, who took the opportunity to build up his match fitness after recovering from a recent hamstring injury.

– Taxing fixtures for Leicester –
He played his part in a Liverpool clean sheet at the weekend; only their third in nine matches.

Liverpool are one of only two clubs to have beaten Leicester in the league to date, so Tuesday’s game gives Claudio Ranieri’s men an opportunity to avenge that defeat in December and offer further proof of their title credentials.

A 3-0 win against an in-form Stoke last week answered many of the doubts about the Foxes, but their next three games will ask more taxing questions.

After facing Liverpool they will take on Manchester City and then Arsenal, the only other club to beat them in a league game in 2015-16.

Defender Christian Fuchs said: “We’ve got three games against big teams and they are important.

“We want to win against Liverpool and the (5-2) defeat to Arsenal was one of our worst games. It was our biggest defeat of the season and we want to win there.

“I don’t see the game against Arsenal as a title decider. We’re just having fun. We keep winning at the moment and we will try to do our best.

“We’re all happy and it was an important three points against Stoke. We’re solid and we believe in ourselves. We are a really good team on the field and we will try to keep winning.

“People writing us off isn’t a topic for us. We focus on our work and we do it well.”

Ranieri will hope to name an unchanged team from the win against Stoke.

Winger Jeff Schlupp faces another month on the sidelines with a serious hamstring injury, while midfielder Matty James will not be involved after suffering a minor setback in his recovery from a long-term knee problem.

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