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Better squad, better substitutions

One of the criticisms that have been levelled at Jürgen Klopp during his Liverpool tenure is that he very rarely changes the game from the bench.

Posted by Andy Thompson
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The German has a distinctive, swashbuckling set up and he is very, very trusting of his starting eleven to get the job done. As he has made his mark on the team, it has become easier to get a formidable team on the pitch and substitutions largely feel like an exercise in resting players.

This season however, you can tell that the squad Klopp has is the squad that Klopp more or less wants because he is much more readily able to change the game using substitutions. The Leicester game is the latest but far from the only example so far this season.

Many people questioned the decision to bring in Jordan Henderson for Naby Keita and I can understand that. I was happy to see Henderson in the team but perhaps not at the expense of the Guinean, who has been impressive in his early season exploits.

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But what that meant is that we could bring Keita off the bench, and I thought his extra bit of quality really told late on in the game when Leicester were really pressing for an equaliser. He is comfortable in possession and uses the ball well. He was hugely influential in the latter stages of the game as he was able to keep the ball, hold it up and find a red shirt.

The same can be said for bringing on Xherdan Shaqiri. The Swiss has barely featured (which given the potency of our front three is no real surprise) since arriving but he came on with huge impact at The King Power Stadium. Again, like Keita he is comfortable in possession and his ability to hold onto the ball bought several free kicks and most importantly of all, allowed us to play the game at our pace.

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We could dissect Saturday’s game at length but the crux of it is that we didn’t play well for long spells. To give the hosts credit, Leicester pressed us into mistakes well and time on the ball was at a premium after a dominant opening twenty minutes from the Reds. It is refreshing that the manager is able to bring players on to see games out.

“Game management” is a term reviled by quite a few football fans but it is something essential in matches where you’re under the cosh. Even if most of Leicester City’s pressure was bluster and resulted in very few gilt edged chances, it was a tough afternoon’s work. The same as the Brighton game at Anfield and the Monday night game at Selhurst Park the week before that – we were under pressure  but rarely looked like we would concede.

Klopp was able to affect all three of those games from the bench. Jordan Henderson was the man brought on at Palace and against Brighton. The skipper is still recovering from his World Cup campaign and whilst he upsets a few of our fans, he was the right man for the situation because he keeps it simple.

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That frustrates the crowd a lot of the time but we needed someone to get on the ball and retain possession in both of those matches – and Henderson’s introduction really helped to stem the flow of the game in our favour.

And of course, just to note another successful Klopp change, Daniel Sturridge scored not twenty seconds after coming off the bench at Anfield against West Ham in the season opener. Goals off the bench are not plentiful and I still think that’s somewhere we could improve, but the situation is far better than it was last season.

Of course, the manager hasn’t just learned to make key substitutions. He has been doing it for years but I do think a lack of a squad at Liverpool has harmed his ability to do that here. It is no coincidence that investment has been forthcoming this summer and our subs are far better.

Given that there isn’t even room on our bench currently for £40m Fabinho, there is even more to come from our squad. I just hope that in future, we are back to bringing on players with a view to giving players a rest as opposed to holding on in a game.

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