Liverpool and Squad Depth

With the transfer window in full swing, The Anfield Talk’s Sam (@sammillnelfc) takes a look at the depth of the squad…

There is a section of Liverpool’s fan base that when a new signing is made, their immediate thought is ‘but where will he fit into the team?’ We need to understand that this is irrelevant. Arguably, Liverpool’s main problem over the last few years has been the lack of squad depth.

Even in poor seasons, Liverpool have been able to compete in individual games against the country’s best sides, however, their problems have come in matches against teams placed lower down the table. This is down to many things, such as tactics and mentality. Another contributing factor could be down to the fact that the players can’t sustain the same high intensity in every game, especially under Jurgen Klopp’s ‘heavy metal’ style of play.

In the Champion’s League final, Liverpool’s bench was scattered with players that weren’t fully fit. The substitutions by each side showcased the chasm in squad depth between Liverpool and Real Madrid. Liverpool were only able to bring on Adam Lallana, who had barely played any football last season, and Emre Can, who was about to leave the club and also not fully fit. Meanwhile, fro Madrid, Gareth Bale (one of the world’s best) and Marco Asensio (a future superstar) were warming up.

Whilst Liverpool’s substitutions made little difference to the game, Gareth Bale came on to score arguably the greatest European Cup final goal of all time.

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It is easy to make excuses and say that Liverpool had more injuries than Real Madrid. You can also say that Madrid have a much greater financial backing, however, even in comparison to English competitors, Liverpool’s lack of squad depth is found out. Manchester City’s vast riches have meant that they have Jesus to backup Aguero, Bernardo Silva to cover David Silva and potentially Mahrez, next season,  to fill in for Sane or Sterling. When we look at Liverpool’s attacking options, they are nothing like Manchester City’s once you look past the first eleven. Liverpool’s options last seasons were Danny Ings, who has barely played for two years and Dominic Solanke, who is playing his first proper professional season. Both didn’t set the world alight. On the wings, there was virtually no backup. Occasionally, Ings or Firmino would be pushed out wide to accommodate for a Mané injury.

Despite reaching four finals in this time, Liverpool haven’t won a trophy Dalglish’s side lifted the League Cup, in 2012. A large part of this has been down to our inability to compete on all fronts, with managers often having to pick and choose (rightly or wrongly) which competitions to try and win. The last two seasons is an example of the squad being stretched, come the end of the campaign. The absences of Coutinho, Oxlade Chamberlain and Lallana, meant that Liverpool were down to their last three midfielders at times towards the end of the 2017/18 season.

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In the 2016/17 season, Liverpool started the season impressively and looked nailed on four top four around Christmas. In the end, we limped over the line needing several scrappy wins to secure our first Champion’s League space since 2014. A similar pattern occurred last season, albeit with a European Cup run to contend with also. Once again Liverpool needed three points on the last day of the season to gain Champion’s League qualification.

The nervous ending could have been avoided easily, allowing a smoother build-up to the Champion’s League final. However, frustrating draws against West Brom and Everton still put Liverpool into a decent position going into the final two league games of the season. They needed only a point versus Chelsea or a win against Brighton on the last day of the season. A disappointing defeat at Stamford Bridge, set up a win or bust situation against Brighton, however, this Liverpool side showed bottle and won the game 4-0. As it turned out, Chelsea lost to Newcastle anyway so it mattered not.

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Increasing squad depth means not casting aside players like Lallana, who have proved to have quality. It is common sense. If you buy a better midfielder and Adam Lallana drops out, you then have a better backup than previous. Manchester City don’t rest on their laurels. They don’t think that their squad is sufficient, despite strolling to the Premier League title, last season. They continue to add to their team, with the likes of Mahrez expecting to join their forward artillery this summer.

The addition of Keita and Fabinho will provide brilliant options in midfield, however, the main concern is Liverpool’s forward and defensive options. Aside from Liverpool, Liverpool don’t have any defenders that are currently good enough to win multiple trophies, nevermind having quality defenders covering, if one gets injured.

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The attempted recruitment of Fekir could have been seen as a wise move, not only for his talent but for his ability to play in different positions. He could fill the role Coutinho played against teams with a low block. He’d play in midfield and try to break defensive teams down. He could also play on the right, as he has the ability to cut inside on his right foot, much like we saw Coutinho do from the left for so many seasons.

The potential arrival of Shaqiri will also add options to the forward line and if Klopp can get the most out of Switzerland’s star man, he could be a fantastic option, who will contribute flare and a great delivery into the box.

Fabinho may have also been signed with an eye to him being able to cover other positions than just his own favoured defensive midfield role. He has also been known to play right-back. Naby Keita is similarly not suited to just one role. He can play in Henderson’s holding position, as an attacking threat from midfield,  or as a box-to-box midfielder – which will most likely be his main position, going forwards.

Increasing the quality of your squad is a gradual process and Klopp is a couple of years into it already. Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and Wijnaldum both offer the ability to play in different positions, with Wijnaldum even been seeing at centre-back, despite him being signed as an attacker.

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With more quality signings this summer, Liverpool should be better equipped for the coming season, than in most over the past twenty years. Klopp doesn’t just like to sign players for the sake of it and this philosophy of getting only the perfect fit has worked so far. The potential incoming of Xherdan Shaqiri would show that Jurgen is thinking about the wider squad as well as just his first eleven. For me, the way to improve squad depth is simply to improve the starting eleven and keep the already decent players that will be shifted out of our best side.

The ultimate goal is to be able to rest players, without it having a minimal effect on the team. This looks some way off, with regards to the forward line, but strides have definitely been made.

 

 

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