It is often thought that nothing beats consistency in football. In an ideal world, a manager would like to play the same eleven players on a weekly basis and expect to reap the rewards of this far from common gift. We only have to look at Leicester’s miraculous title run from two years ago to see how beneficial it can be to have an in form, consistent starting eleven and roll with them essentially for an entire campaign. It was also seen as a massive advantage for Chelsea and Liverpool last year having no European exploits to stretch their squads to their limits.
However, in this day and age if you want to be considered a top side over a number of years it is a squad and not just a first team that carries a club to lofty heights, and then of course keeps them there. It was thought prior to the season that this Liverpool squad lacked depth. Not only did we lack depth but we played in a style that wasn’t considered sustainable when frequently playing two games in a week. The poor form in January last season was largely attributed to these factors and it did ultimately derail what had briefly looked like a potential title challenging campaign. Our first eleven last year proved to be as good as anyone in the league, one that the other top six sides dreaded facing. There can be no doubt though that we were highly susceptible to losing certain key players for extended periods of time, namely a certain Sadio Mané.
Fast forward to this season and so far the story is being told in a way that was not foreseen. For starters the high octane counter press has not been near as prevalent to date. Perhaps this was Jurgen Klopp and his staff determining that to mount a challenge on all major fronts that an adjustment had to be made. Or simply it could have been a late decision based on the early loss of the counter press trigger extraordinaire in Adam Lallana. Whatever the reason, Liverpool have not been quite as ferocious on such a consistent basis as they were last year. There is a distinct element of patience apparent in this years’ side.
With the chaotic Christmas period fast approaching, every Liverpool fan could be forgiven for being a little worried about what might be to come. After all, it was only a month ago that our world was apparently ending following a defensive meltdown at Wembley against Spurs. I can report safely now that the world is once again safe, and Klopp is proving to all the naysayers why he is more than just an eccentric German man with a booming yet jolly laugh.
It is squad rotation that has returned to the fore once again. It was a huge talking point in the Rafa Benitez years as Rafa was particularly averse to rolling out the same line up in consecutive matches no matter what the situation was. Benitez received a lot of criticism for this approach but ultimately he wasn’t wrong. To sustain a challenge over a marathon of a season you simply must have players you can trust to bring in to keep the so called strongest eleven a little more fresh.
The vultures were out in force again last weekend when the always controversial and risky rotating began to rear its ugly head yet. Jurgen Klopp had the audacity to leave both Mané and Roberto Firmino out against the reigning champions Chelsea. He also rested Gini Wijnaldum for good measure as well. Klopp clearly was looking at the bigger picture but rarely is that a valid excuse for supporters far and wide. The fact of the matter was that the team faced three key Premier League fixtures in a week followed by the decisive Champions League fixture against Spartak Moscow. Something had to be done to keep the squad fresh.
Willian and his fluky right boot made the decision at Anfield look a little risky in retrospect. Klopp was again labelled a poor in game manager as he didn’t send on Mané and Lallana earlier in the contest to kill off the Blues. Realistically, it was a no win situation for the boss as imagine he sends on Mané after 60 minutes and we concede the equalizer then? Klopp would be lambasted for being too gung ho and not knowing how to protect a lead. Be that as it may, if it wasn’t for that wayward cross from Willian it would have been a quality win against a top side making the most of our deeper squad.
Moving on to Wednesday at Stoke and Klopp was still reading from the Benitez handbook for rotation. On this occasion it was the in form Mo Salah, Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutinho who were withheld from the first eleven. Even more surprising was that Dom Solanke was handed his first Premier League start for the Reds. Once again the gamble paid off as Solanke set up Mané for the opener before a fresh Salah entered the fray in the second half and bagged a quick fire brace to seal the points. The Reds won 0-3 at Stoke with an all star bench consisting of Salah, Henderson, Coutinho, James Milner, Daniel Sturridge and Trent Alexander-Arnold. The squad must be half decent to say the least. Talented youngsters like Ben Woodburn and Marko Grujic can’t even get a look in!
Finally, we had the win at Brighton on Saturday. Mané again took his place amongst the substitutes while Andy Robertson finally gave Alberto Moreno a long awaited day off. A rejuvenated Philippe Coutinho ran the show in front of a extremely makeshift back three of Emre Can, Dejan Lovren and Gini “I can play anywhere” Wijnaldum. The rotation strategy has paid off handsomely to date. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has looked every bit the player we hoped we had signed in the last couple of weeks now that he is getting a regular opportunity. Players like Firmino and Henderson who in past seasons have gone through phases of looking exhausted due to their energetic styles are getting the rest they need to benefit them in the long run.
Jurgen Klopp and his staff are using preventative measures to prepare Liverpool for the gauntlet that lies ahead. Waiting until Christmas to rotate would probably have been too late and they must be commended for this forward thinking approach. There is not one player anymore who is indispensable to this team (though with injuries/illness at the back right now losing Lovren would be an absolute disaster currently!). Our first eleven remains as strong as ever but we can now see that if one player is missing there are plenty who can step up and fill that gap.
The form of squad players such as Solanke, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Robertson, Milner, Sturridge and Ragnar Klavan is extremely encouraging. The players have been managed in such a way that they all now feel like integral cogs in the Liverpool machine. It is not just about the front three and Coutinho. Even Adam Lallana has barely still played a minute this season. The possibilities are still endless and we can thank Jurgen Klopp for making this scenario play out in such a convincing manner.
There were many doubters after the Spurs game, I hope by now that they have become believers like me.