Football

Klopp defends fielding second-string Reds

Klopp says Lovren's injury highlights his decision to make nine changes

Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp believes an early injury to defender Dejan Lovren highlighted why he chose to name a second-string side in bowing out of the FA Cup 2-1 to Wolverhampton Wanderers yesterday morning (Singapore time).

Klopp made nine changes to the side that lost narrowly for the first time in the English Premier League this season to Manchester City last Thursday, with Lovren one of only two players to retain their place.

However, the Croat pulled up with a hamstring injury after just six minutes and was replaced by 16-year-old Ki-Jana Hoever.

"Hamstring, is what I heard - without any signs before," said Klopp on what forced Lovren off. "I asked everybody, no signs, nothing, just out of the blue, so that's the decision you have to make.

"I am not sure what you all would have said if immediately from the beginning if our centre-half situation was Fabinho and Ki-Jana; then probably a few very smart people would tell me that I don't respect the competition or whatever."

With central defenders Joe Gomez and Joel Matip also sidelined and Virgil van Dijk not used against Wolves, Brazilian midfielder Fabinho filled in at centre-half.

However, with Liverpool still in pole position to deliver a first league title in 29 years, Klopp defended his selection to minimise the chance of his stars suffering injuries.

"The problem is, we played a similar line-up and had three tough games in the last couple of weeks, so it was clear we had to change. That's it, that's all," the German added after a run of four Premier League games in 13 days over the festive period.

"After the City game we immediately had a few players who were ill... A few of them were not even in (training) after the City game, so there was no chance.

"Pretty much all the players who were not here today had little problems, apart from Ali (goalkeeper Alisson Becker).

"Only Dejan played a lot of games in the last three or four weeks... He played today and was injured."

Goals from Raul Jimenez and Ruben Neves either side of half-time sent the hosts into the fourth round, where they will face Shrewsbury Town or Stoke City, despite Divock Origi's fine strike briefly bringing Liverpool level after the break.

Hoever's introduction meant Liverpool fielded three teenagers for much of the game, with Rafael Camacho and Curtis Jones also handed debuts.

However, it was the visitors' most experienced player, James Milner, who was at fault for the opening goal.

Diogo Jota caught the former England international in possession in midfield and put Jimenez clean through for the Mexican to score his seventh goal of the season.

Without Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, Liverpool were struggling to get any momentum going forward.

But the visitors were level out of nothing when Origi collected a loose ball on the edge of the area six minutes into the second period and smashed the ball high past John Ruddy.

Wolves, though, have made a habit of upsetting the Premier League's established top six in their first season back in the top flight.

After beating Chelsea and Tottenham and holding City, Manchester United and Arsenal in the Premier League, Liverpool can now be added to the list of scalps for Nuno Espirito Santo's side - thanks to a wonder strike from Neves.

"He has talent, he has done it before and we encourage him to shoot from range," said Wolves boss Santo. "It was a good strike." - AFP

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