Paul Higham previews the Club World Cup and ponders the main talking points as Liverpool look to become kings of the world.
Liverpool kick off their bid to become champions of the world on Wednesday as they face Mexican side Monterrey in their first game of the Club World Cup in Qatar.
It's a much-maligned competition that has been seen as a thorn in Jurgen Klopp's side since it was announced on the summer, with the Reds missing a Premier League game to take the long trip to the Middle East.
The added complication of the Carabao Cup was also thrown in after they booked a quarter-final date with Aston Villa, but that game is being staged on Tuesday just 24 hours before their Qatar debut. The Reds will be putting out a youth side for that game at Villa Park.
Club World Cup odds
- 4/11 - Liverpool
- 11/4 - Flamengo
- 18/1 - Monterrey
Ironically, though, it may not be such a bad thing as long as they don't pick up any fresh injuries on their trip. If Klopp uses his squad correctly they could all get a decent run out without too much football in the legs, effectively using it as a warm weather training trip.
If injuries don't take hold, they will then return on Sunday ahead of their huge Premier League game with Leciester on Boxing Day night. If looking on the bright side, the Reds will be out in the sunshine while their nearest rivals Man City and Leicester will be slugging it out at the Etihad this Saturday.
Of course, if injuries occur then that will put a massively negative spin on the trip which, after all, does just add to an already packed fixture list around this time of year. The fact Liverpool sit on such a big lead at the top of the table may help them on their trip.
What is the Club World Cup format?
It's the first time and English side have competed in the Club World Cup since 2012 when Chelsea took part, and it's Liverpool's second bid at this particular trophy after they finished second to Brazilian side Sao Paulo in 2005.
Liverpool have entered at the semi-final stage, meaning they'll play just twice in Qatar, firstly taking on Mexican side Monterrey on Wednesday before playing a second game on Saturday - either the third/fourh place play-off or the final.
Brazil's Flamengo will face Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal in the other semi-final on Tuesday (17:30 kick-off), with the winners meeting Liverpool or Monterrey in the final.
All games are now being staged at the Khalifa International Stadium after the original venue, the Education City Stadium, was not completed in time. That has raised concerns from Jurgen Klopp about the suitability of the pitch by the time the final rolls around.
What is Liverpool's squad for the Club World Cup?
Klopp has taken a full-strength party out to Qatar, with Dejan Lovren missing out through injury but Gini Wijnaldum travelling despite a muscle problem he picked up against Watford. It's thought training in the sunshine will only help his recovery.
Youngsters Curtis Jones and Neco Williams did make the final 20-man squad but fellow youth players Rhian Brewster and Harvey Elliott remained in the UK and will most likely line-up at Villa Park.
Klopp has managed to rotate his squad well in the last few games while still getting three points against Everton, Bournemouth and Watford, and that's a trick he'll have to pull off a few more times with Liverpool on target to play 67 games across seven competitions in 300 days if they go all the way in each of them.
Liverpool Club World Cup squad: Alisson, Van Dijk, Wijnaldum, Milner, Keita, Firmino, Mane, Salah, Gomez, Adrian, Henderson, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lallana, Lonergan, Shaqiri, Robertson, Origi, Jones, Alexander-Arnold, Williams.
Monterrey v Liverpool preview
- Wednesday Decmber 18 5.30pm - BBC Two & iPlayer
It's kind of a step into the unknown for Liverpool who, despite being 10 points clear at the top of the Premier League, will still be wary of picking up needless injuries when they embark on trying to become kings of the world.
It's still an honour Jurgen Klopp would love to have on his CV, but obviously pales into insignificance compared with trying to win a first Premier League title and become champions of England for the first time in 30 years.
That is the tightrope he'll have to traverse with caution and he'd do well to try and mix-and-match his side for the two games in Qatar - that's the reason he's gone full strength and opted to go with the youth side for the Carabao Cup tie at Villa Park.
So it remains to be seen if Klopp will go full throttle for the first game and rest a few for the next or the opposite way around, but he'll make changes for sure, making it tough to try and evaluate their chances of glory here, despite being odds-on favourites to lift the trophy.
They're also massive 1/4 favourites to beat Monterrey in what is their first ever meeting with a Mexican side - after they came through 3-2 in an entertaining clash with Al-Sadd.
Left-back Leonel Vangioni gave Monterrey the lead with an absolute rocket of a 35-yarder in that game, and the Concacaf champions and four-time Mexican league winners will provide lively opposition for the Champions League holders.
They played with attacking intent and eye-catching abandon in that first game, but did leave themselves open at the back and Al-Sadd could have bagged a couple more than the two goals they mustered in that contest.
That should have the likes of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino licking their chops if they all line up, but even the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri, Divock Origi and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will also fancy their chances.
Prediction: Monterrey 1-3 Liverpool (Sky Bet odds: 9/1)
Monterrey v Liverpool Opta stats
- This will be Liverpool’s first ever competitive meeting with a Mexican opponent, while Monterrey have faced an English side once before in the Club World Cup, losing 3-1 to Chelsea in the 2012 semi-final.
- In all competitions, Liverpool have lost three of their four previous matches against clubs from outside of Europe, losing to Flamengo (Brazil) in 1981, Independiente (Argentina) in 1984 and São Paulo (Brazil) in 2005.
- Monterrey have reached the semi-final of the FIFA Club World Cup for the second time in what is their fourth entry to the competition (also 2012); Mexican clubs have lost all seven of their previous semi-final matches in the tournament, most recently Pachuca against Grêmio in 2017.
- Liverpool are participating in the FIFA Club World Cup for a second time, and the first since 2005 when they finished as runners-up to Brazilian club São Paulo. They are the first English side to compete in the tournament since Chelsea in 2012, who also finished as runners-up to a Brazilian champion (Corinthians).
- Sides from Europe have won all 14 of their semi-final matches at the Club World Cup, including English clubs winning all three of their previous such matches, with Liverpool beating Costa Rican side Saprissa 3-0 in 2005 before Manchester United beat Japan’s Gamba Osaka 5-3 in 2008 and Chelsea picked up a 3-1 win over Liverpool’s opponents for this game Monterrey in 2012.
- Monterrey have won five of their last seven Club World Cup fixtures (L2) and are looking to win back-to-back matches in the same year of the tournament for the very first time.