In the manic month of December, the Reds were always going to have their squad tested. With an intense run of games that goes on until the FA Cup 3rd round in January, we are going to have to rest and rotate our star players.
I disagree with the calendar but that’s festive football for you. All of the football, all of the time. And Jürgen Klopp took a huge gamble in the 3-1 at Burnley, but he emphatically proved once again that he knows precisely what he is doing.
With seven changes, the performance was always going to lack fluidity but we couldn’t so much as make a simple pass in the first half. With changes from the bench, we were able to come back strongly from a goal (which was offside) deficit and we won the game comfortably at the end.
This is exactly why Klopp will have earmarked the Burnley fixture as the opportunity to rest and rotate. Andy Robertson and Sadio Mané have minor injuries sustained in the frenetic derby with Everton on Sunday. Their need for recovery time allowed the likes of Alberto Moreno and Sunday’s unlikely hero Divock Origi to get some unusual time on the pitch.
However, we were also able to bring in Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Naby Keita in a complete midfield reshuffle. Keita in particular grasped the nettle and was for my money the best player on the pitch by a comfortable margin. He is still making his way back from injury and though it’s not been the most auspicious start to his Liverpool career, you get the feeling that the Guinean will be spectacular when it all clicks.
Roberto Firmino was able to step out and Daniel Sturridge get a start. The Brazilian came off the bench to huge effect and scored with his first touch. He has been far from his best this season and in spite of playing deeper in a new role, he has simply not been up to the high standards he set last year. However, that goal will likely boost his confidence.
What is clear however is that we have the best squad we have had in some time. I’d argue we are short of a versatile forward (Harry Wilson will fit that bill nicely next season) and a left back of requisite quality when Robertson can’t play but we are almost at the point where we have a perfect squad.
The strength in depth the squad has can be told by the number of changes we were able to make and still win easily enough. In an ideal world we wouldn’t need to make such changes, but with a stacked fixture list we had to. Had we put in a more competent performance in any of our away games in Europe, the Napoli match would likely be a dead game. Instead, we’re putting much of our season on the line. We don’t have the luxury to rotate and rest ahead of that must win game.
Even before that, we have an early kick off at Bournemouth on Saturday. Eddie Howe has got his team playing outstanding football and they will give Liverpool a significant test. They will prove a much tougher proposition than Burnley, who aren’t the force they were last season. So Klopp has to make the changes that he did because somewhere down the line, we need to make sure our players are kept fresh.
I cringed when I saw the team sheet (and I will involuntarily do that any time I see Alberto Moreno’s name) but Klopp has placed a large bet and has won handsomely. The likes of Firmino and Mo Salah have had reduced time on the field, which could prove valuable come full time of the Manchester United game on the 16th December.
So Klopp wins and wins big. It seems that most of his substitutions have a massive impact these days, Firmino’s goal is one in an increasingly long list of changes that have gone on to win matches. The margin for error is miniscule due to Manchester City’s footballing freak show, in fact it is borderline non-existent. And at 1-0 down with an hour gone, it looked like Klopp’s gamble had failed.
But the guy knows exactly what he is doing – I might grimace when I see a team sheet but increasingly, it would appear that no matter how many times Klopp makes changes, he has the squad available to get the job done at the full time whistle. And if he doesn’t get it right from the start, he will make the changes needed to still get the job done.
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by Tom Bodell