The wheels threaten to come off Liverpool’s good start to the season when within a space of a week both Adam Lallana and Gini Wijnaldum picked up injuries and with fierce rivals Manchester United on the horizon two thirds of the Reds’ starting midfield looked set to miss the tie. One of the few matches in the year that no Liverpool fan wants to lose.
Yet scanning social media there wasn’t the mass hysteria regular users of Twitter have come to expect from Liverpool fans over the years. It was unnaturally calm and I won’t lie, I for one felt uncomfortable in these new surroundings. Klopp’s seemingly tamed the reactive fan in just over 12 months at the club. The general consensus seemed to be along the lines of “oh right, shame that we might be missing the pair of them but we can just use Coutinho and Emre Can in midfield alongside Henderson“.
Yep, Liverpool are in the luxurious position of being able to miss £45m worth of talent in Wijnaldum and Lallana yet still field a midfield and attack containing the aforementioned three, Roberto Firmino, Daniel Sturridge and Sadio Mane with Divock Origi still on the bench.
Not so long back I wrote a piece asking whether Klopp had put together the best Liverpool squad (not first XI) since the inception of the Premier League. Some got too hung up on the title, decided to read what they wanted to take from it and proceeded to ridicule me, basically implying that I’m a deluded dickhead for suggesting this current XI was better than the XI Rafa had at his disposal in the 2008/09 season. Which of course is fine if I’d said that. But I didn’t.
I don’t want to repeat what was said in that article but if anything the injuries to Lallana and Wijnaldum kind of back-up my initial point. This is the best squad Liverpool have had in the past 26 years. In no other season could they lose two of their starting midfielders yet have replacements of a similar quality. There’s no Jay Spearing for Javier Mascherano anymore. There’s no Lucas Leiva in place of Xabi Alonso this time around. There’s no clear quality in difference between who we had starting and who we may have starting for us.
It’s alien to most Liverpool fans who have grown up simply knowing the Reds to have a good first choice XI.
Take 2008/09 for example. It’s the season most fans seem to harp back to when talking about the best Premier League team. After selling Robbie Keane back to Spurs in January 2009 the back-up to Fernando Torres was David Ngog. In this squad the back-up to first choice striker Roberto Firmino is arguably the second best natural finisher in the Premier League, Daniel Sturridge.
Klopp went about piecing together an interchangeable and fluid squad. In terms of midfield and attack there is around 8/9 players capable of playing a variety of positions. As the German mentioned on Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football, it’s about ensuring you have players in certain areas of the pitch to ensure you’re able to execute your game plan. It’s not always possible to have the best players in their favoured positions so you need quality, multifunctional players and Liverpool have them in abundance.
More often than not it’s not like-for-like when these players are replaced due to an injury. It’s not a defensive-midfielder coming on for a defensive-midfielder. Instead it’s an attacking midfielder in place of a box-to-box midfielder who has dropped a little deeper to play the holding midfield role. It means, rightly or wrongly, the Reds aren’t reliant on specialist players like some teams are. There’s no major reshuffle for an injury and the style of the team doesn’t have to be changed to accommodate it. It’s a first choice XI made up of profiles and it’s that which makes it easier to manage.
The Liverpool manager isn’t doing a Brendan Rodgers and using Danny Ings and Roberto Firmino as wing-backs. Just because they aren’t in their natural position doesn’t mean they aren’t in an area of the pitch where they can’t influence or have an impact on the game and that’s the real difference.
It’s just a blur of red when Liverpool transition from defence to attack and vice versa. You only get that when it’s second nature to the players and they aren’t being tasked with something out of their comfort zone. It’s this reason Liverpool may be able to sustain their early season form for the entire season.