Jurgen Klopp & Squad Rotation: A Lesson Learnt The Hard Way

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Liverpool have come under the radar recently for their bizarre squad rotation that saw midfielder Gini Wijnaldum move into centre-back for the game against Brighton. It was a move that shocked everyone as it became apparent only minutes into Liverpool’s 5-1 away win against Brighton, but it was also an indicator of Jurgen Klopp adapting his management at Liverpool. In recent weeks Klopp has repeatedly made changes to the Liverpool line up, and if needs be the teams system. He came under serious criticism last year for his side’s inability to break down defensive teams who came to sit deep and frustrate Liverpool. Thanks to more options in the way of personal and what he credits as the benefit of time, Liverpool have done wonders beating sides such as Brighton, Stoke and West Ham, none of whom came to play on the day. As an indicator, Liverpool are currently the proud owners of a new record. As far as ???Total PL Team Changes’ goes, Liverpool top the list after making 54 changes this season, next are Everton with 37, this comes after stars such as Sadio Mane and Mo Salah were both rested in recent victories. ???Liverpool can’t play against the smaller sides.’ “Last year, a few people said we didn’t have a plan against bus-parking teams however people said it and now we score five, we score three, we do things like this. It’s development.” Jurgen Klopp. The critics were right though, last season Liverpool struggled at times, losing 2-0 to Burnley and Hull, as well as dropping points to West Ham and Sunderland amongst others. There was a distinct lack of answers in these games, as Liverpool seemed passive participants in their own downfall. However, 25 goals in their last 8 games tell a different story, especially when you look at the opposition. The numbers include wins against Brighton, Stoke & West Ham away, and S’oton & Huddersfield at home, all of which saw rotation to the first team line-up. Klopp deserves plaudits for his boldness, it isn’t an easy thing to do. Jamie Carragher, who was on the receiving end of squad rotation at Liverpool under Benitez, has been a vocal fan of the switches made by Klopp: “He’s getting it right now – changing players at the right time. He’s got a bench now which looks like a bench a top club should have – he didn’t have that last season. Hopefully you’ll see Liverpool get through this period”. How did it come to this? Thankfully it’s a lesson learnt by Klopp, but it was one learnt the hard way. This time last year Liverpool were about to slump to December disappointments, a dismal 2-2 draw to West Ham, and the unforgettable 3-4 collapse against Bournemouth (I’ve tried, trust me). The January that followed was similarly depressing, the only win that month came in the Cup replay against Plymouth. At the time, Liverpool were stretched, the personal just weren’t available, and it felt like time and time again Klopp was squeezing players into a system in which the football became predictable, and the end results were just not good enough. However now Liverpool enter games with options available on the bench, and a squad Klopp feels comfortable enough to experiment and play with to suit the needs of the game. The proof? The 3-4-3 switch at Brighton, and the bench on the day that included, Daniel Sturridge, Sadio Mane, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ragnar Klavan, all reliable deputies or in Mane’s case, usually a nailed-on starter. Rafa Benitez, haven’t we been here before? The iconic Spaniard also suffered scrutiny during his Liverpool reign, he was a regular patron of the church of rotation, and in fact still is, having defended the practice at Newcastle as well as Liverpool & Valencia. He once told the LMA: “In my first year at Valencia we La Liga???in January we were eight points behind Real Madrid and we finished six or seven points ahead. Why? Because we were fresh at the end of the season“. This is the sort of idea Klopp will be looking to deploy this year, the games come thick and fast for the Red’s during Christmas time and it’s key the players not only come up with the goods now, but don’t suffer the consequences in January, Liverpool will be looking to compete on several fronts, including the European knock out stage, as well as the Premier League and the Cup, last year the signs of fatigue had become clear at times, a season that saw the Reds play in only 47 games. This season they’ve played 23 games already, and could play in 37* more games at the most, totalling 60 games. *(This would only happen if Liverpool made it to both FA & UCL finals, and doesn’t include the possibility of cup replays). Going forward. Get used to the idea of seeing top players on the bench for Liverpool, for the first time in years, we can look to our bench with confidence, the inclusion of 5-6 good players is a possibility thanks to rotation. The bizarre tactical innovation against Brighton that saw Dejan Lovren line up as a make shift sweeper might not be repeated, and we should hope not, although it worked, it isn’t a solution, and it’s a sign Liverpool still need more squad depth in some areas, van Dijk? De Vrij? Alderweireld? Okay maybe not, at least maybe not in January, but quality is needed as soon as it’s possible.   Article by Jamie Keogh
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