Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel is unlikely to make his return from a hamstring injury against Manchester United in the Europa League last-16 second-leg encounter. The 31-year-old made his first appearance since December against the Old Trafford club's Under-21 side last week, playing for an hour alongside Steven Caulker.
The Slovakia defender was "itching" to make his first-team return against Louis van Gaal's side on Thursday 17 March in order to play a role in cementing his side's two-goal lead from the first leg, given to them by goals from Roberto Firmino and Daniel Sturridge. Skrtel came through the game unscathed and was seemingly on course to return.
However, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has seemingly taken an early decision regarding Skrtel's fitness after the player appeared to travel to London for the club's Under-21 Premier League Cup semi-final against West Ham United. The former Zenit St Petersburg centre-back posted a photo of himself and Jon Flanagan on Instagram, followed by the message: "Me and my boy Jon Flanagan after nice six hours on the coach but flanno is smiling as always."
Flanagan is unavailable for European competition after not being included in Liverpool's revised squad for the second half of the season, but Skrtel would have been eligible to play had Klopp opted to test his hamstring problem. With Skrtel in London on the eve of the tie against United, it makes it unlikely the player will be included in the matchday squad.
The inclusion of Skrtel in Liverpool's Under-21 squad is however a boost for their hopes of claiming silverware this season and coach Michael Beale says the game is a great opportunity. "It's not often when you play for Liverpool Academy sides that you get a chance to play in a semi-final, so it's a completely different pressure and build-up to the game," he told the club's official website.
"It's a great opportunity to get to a final and showcase our talent again. I think this group has a number of players that we're very proud of and who we think can go to the next level and become first-team players.
"[It's important that] as a group that we show how enjoyable it is to be here at the Academy and what a special environment it is. I think going on and winning a trophy can really sort of underline this group's potential moving forward.
"It's important to establish control in the game and play the game in the right areas and then your best players, as the game opens up, will get more opportunities. I think with the likes of Sheyi Ojo, Ryan Kent, Joao [Carlos] Teixeira and Jerome Sinclair, we have the players in the final third that can hurt any team."