Liverpool were hit with a number of crucial injuries ahead of their clash against Stoke City on Saturday afternoon and it almost proved costly.
Jurgen Klopp needed to call upon his Brazilian duo Phillipe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino to grab a tight victory at the Britannia Stadium, as the absence of Jordan Henderson, Sadio Mane and Adam Lallana in the squad meant there were rare Premier League starts for Ben Woodburn and Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Coutinho and Firmino weren’t deemed fit enough to start either so it was a make-shift side which took to the field on Saturday. Klopp opted to use all three centre-backs Ragnar Klavan, Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren in a new-look formation, while James Milner, Georginio Wijnaldum and Emre Can were in midfield.
There was plenty of strength and experience on the bench though, as Coutinho and Firmino lined up alongside Daniel Sturridge, Lucas Leiva and Alberto Moreno. That has not been the case often this season as Klopp has named plenty of youngsters in the match-day squad throughout 2016-17.
Ovie Ejaria, Loris Karius, Marko Grujic, Alexander-Arnold, Woodburn and Harry Wilson have all been involved at some point this season and while it has been encouraging to see so many talented youngsters in the mix, it has been concerning that Liverpool have not been able to call upon their substitutes to make an impact on enough occasions.
Divock Origi has often provided a threat up front when he has come on but only two of his 10 goals in all competitions this season have come as a substitute, with the majority of his goals coming from the starting line-up. Sturridge has also only contributed to just three goals from the bench and only one in the Premier League as a substitute, suggesting Liverpool have struggled to bring on impact players this season.
Woodburn is yet to open his account in the Premier League but at the age of just 17 it would be harsh to demand such things from him.
Against Stoke, Liverpool were crying out for someone to come on and make a difference and it was the two Brazilians who did so. Their introduction was crucial and it was important Liverpool had players of that stature and quality to call upon from the bench.
It was an important victory too as the Reds can’t afford to drop any more points in the race for a place in the top four.
The impact of the substitutions proved vital and it has emphasised Liverpool’s need to improve the squad depth in the summer. Prior to the two substitute goals from Coutinho and Firmino, not a single player has come on as a substitute for Liverpool and scored the winning goal in a victory. Origi came off the bench to help seal the 3-1 victory against Everton earlier this month and Woodburn also scored a late substitute goal in the EFL Cup quarter-final against Leeds but the Reds were already leading when they were both introduced.
While it has been great to see youngsters break into the first team squad, Liverpool need to bring in more experienced quality who can make an immediate impact.
Sturridge’s career looks to be over at Liverpool and even if he does stay this summer, Liverpool need to invest in a proven goal-scorer to replace Firmino in the centre-forward role. When the Brazilian is out of the side, Liverpool have lacked ruthlessness in front of goal and aside from Origi and Sturridge, there are no out-right strikers in the current squad.
There are also relatively few options to replace Sadio Mane and Philippe Coutinho on the wings as only Origi, Woodburn and Firmino have excelled out wide for Liverpool in the past.
If Liverpool want to compete among the best, the squad depth simply must improve. They need players available to come off the bench who are capable of becoming match winners like Coutinho and Firmino proved to be on Saturday afternoon.