The footballing calendar in this country is absolutely bizarre.
We are about to come to the end of our third international break of the season, a total of six weeks without club football since the middle of August. And here we are about to embark on a run of ten games between the 24thNovember and the 29thDecember. Just after this most recent international break, starting with Saturday’s trip to Vicarage Road, we have a particularly gruelling run of four games in just ten days.
I have long extolled the virtues of a winter break and the FA have finally acquiesced and scheduled one, but this doesn’t occur until 2020. The fact of the matter is that we need to look after our troops with a long portion of the season ahead.
Jürgen Klopp has constructed a squad which he believes is capable of competing on all fronts and this is a marked difference from last season when we were playing some of our more important players through the tiredness barrier. I still think we’re light up front personally but other areas of our squad are much more capable of rotating without a drop off in quality.
If Jordan Henderson isn’t fully fit or James Milner is in need of a breather, we have the returning Naby Keita and the improving Fabinho to bring in. However, in the forwards we’re looking at Dom Solanke or Divock Origi to come in should Mo Salah need a rest or Sadio Mané pick up a bang. Origi appeared off the bench in the disastrously poor performance in Belgrade and is still perpetually offside.
Klopp has shown that he will rotate and as much as it might grate at the time, he has shown that he knows exactly when to do it.
His decision to rest players in the Anfield derby against Everton last December drew my ire to say the least as we slipped to a 1-1 draw against Sam Allardyce’s long ball merchants. A soft penalty given away by Dejan Lovren only served to underline my annoyance.
The changes were also rang in a 0-0 draw at home to an insipid West Bromwich Albion team in the midweek following that game. Four points dropped, but come the business end of the season we were in a good enough position to put our all into the Champions League. We may have fallen heartbreakingly short in the final but we were scintillating in every knockout game. Highly energised, we were too hot for Porto, Manchester City and Roma to handle. I attribute that energy to sensible rotation around the festive period.
It was only around the time of that second leg in Rome where we did begin to look leggy, hampered by an inability to rotate in central midfield due to injuries. It’s hard work being a central midfielder for Jürgen Klopp – just ask Fabinho. The Brazilian cost north of £40m but has not featured regularly until now as he has been blown away by the required intensity.
However, with a glut of central midfielders now in place, we will be able to rest and rotate and we’ll see some much changed teams in the coming weeks.
The likes of Fabinho, Daniel Sturridge, Joel Matip, Adam Lallana and Nathaniel Clyne will likely find themselves getting some more regular time on the field as we take on this manic run of games.
It still isn’t ideal that we play so much football in a short space of time and I do think the calendar needs looking at. The new winter break also makes little sense to me – the games come in a crazy volume in December and January, yet the proposed break comes into play in February.
The FA wonder why there are so many teams who look at the FA Cup and shrug their shoulders – a look at the fixtures might help. The third round comes in the weekend beginning the 5thJanuary. The Reds face Manchester City at the Etihad on the 3rdJanuary. I suspect we all know which game will have more of our attention.
This of course is not a Liverpool specific problem, but it is something we’ve suffered with. January has not been a good month for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. We have struggled past Stoke City in the League Cup, lost to Southampton in the League Cup and then been knocked out of the FA Cup by Wolves and lost 1-0 to a Swansea team that would be relegated and suffered an ignominious FA Cup exit at Anfield to a similarly fated West Bromwich Albion in the last three seasons respectively.
However, we now have a much more effective and well balanced squad to cope with this tough run of games. I’m not for one second saying we couldn’t improve it as we patently could, but we are better equipped than we have been in recent years. And for that, Klopp needs to take a lot of credit.
*odds are subject to change.