How Will Liverpool Survive Early Fixture Congestion?

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Now that Liverpool’s Champions League qualification opponent has been drawn the club know they will have two matches against Hoffenheim slotted between their opening three Premier League weekends.  The Reds will have very little time to prepare, recover or to sign players before the international break on August 28th.

  • Saturday, August 12th – Away – Watford
  • Tuesday, August 15th – Away – Hoffenheim
  • Saturday, August 19th – Home – Crystal Palace
  • Wednesday, August 23rd – Home – Hoffenheim
  • Sunday, August 27th – Home – Arsenal
  • August 28th – International Break 

How will Klopp use his squad through this vital stretch of 15 days? How will he rotate with fixtures this important packed so tightly together?  For an idea, here is how Pep Guardiola rotated his squad under the same circumstances last year. City finished 4th in 2015/16 and thus had to fit in a qualifying round as we will this year, finishing August with an undefeated record and as odds on favorites to win the league.

Manchester City Starting Lineups – August 13-28th, 2016:

August 13 – Home – Sunderland
Manchester City starting lineup:
Caballero, Clichy, Kolarov, Stones, Sagna, Silva, Fernandinho, De Bruyne, Nolito, Agüero, Sterling
Substitutes: Hart, Zabaleta, Fernando, Navas, Delph, Otamendi, Iheanacho

August 16 – Away – Stau Bucharest
Manchester City starting lineup:
Caballero, Zabaleta, Stones, Otamendi, Kolarov, Fernandinho, Sterling, De Bruyne, Silva, Nolito, Agüero
Substitutes: Hart, Sagna, Fernando, Navas, Delph, Clichy, Iheanacho

August 20 – Away – Stoke City
Manchester City starting lineup:
Caballero, Zabaleta, Stones, Otamendi, Kolarov, Fernandinho, Navas, De Bruyne, Silva, Sterling, Agüero
Substitutes: Hart, Fernando, Maffeo, Nolito, Delph, Iheanacho, Clichy

Aug 24 – Home – Stau Bucharest 
Manchester City starting lineup:
Hart, Maffeo, Stones, Kolarov, Clichy, Fernando,  Navas, Touré, Delph, Nolito, Iheanacho
Substitutes: Gunn, Adarabioyo, Angeliño, Fernandinho, Agüero, Sterling, Silva

August 28 – Home – West Ham
Manchester City starting lineup:
Caballero, Zabaleta, Otamendi, Stones, Clichy, Fernandinho, De Bruyne, Silva, Sterling, Nolito, Aguero
Substitutes: Hart, Fernando, Nasri, Kolarov, Delph, Iheanacho, Navas

Manchester City Appearances, Starts and Minutes by player:Caballero – 4 appearances, 4 starts, 460 minStones – 5 appearances, 5 starts, 389 min

Kolorov –  5 appearances, 4 starts, 376 min

Fernandinho – 5 appearances, 4 starts, 374 min

Sterling – 4 appearances, 4 starts, 360 min

Aguero – 4 appearances, 4 starts, 351 min

De Bruyne – 4 appearances, 4 starts, 347 min

D Silva – 4 appearances, 4 starts, 334 min

Nolito – 5 appearances, 4 starts, 305 min

Clichy – 4 appearances, 3 starts, 275 min

Otamendi – 3 appearances, 3 starts, 270 min

Zabaleta – 3 appearances, 3 starts, 250 min

Navas – 3 appearances, 2 starts, 190 min

Delph – 4 appearances, 1 start, 130 min

Sagna – 2 appearances, 1 start, 110 min

Fernando – 3 appearances, 1 start, 103 min

Ihenacho – 3 appearances, 1 start, 93 min

Hart – 1 appearance, 1 start, 90 min

Maffeo – 1 appearance, 1 start, 90 min

Toure – 1 appearance, 1 start, 90 min

Adarabioyo – 1 appearance, 0 starts, 30 min

Angelino – 1 appearance, 0 starts, 30 min

Nasri – 1 appearance, 0 starts, 15 min

Guardiola had a core group of 9 that started 4 of the 5 matches with central defenders and Fernandinho, their DM, leading the way in minutes played. If Klopp and his physio’s have similar ideas it would be Matip, Lovren and Henderson getting the bulk of time in the August fixtures.  The attacking group of Aguero, De Bruyne, Silva and Nolito were the only other players to top 300 minutes over that span with each starting 4 of the 5, but being rested with substitutions in many of the matches. Expect the trio of Firmino, Coutinho and Salah to end up with similar tallies, but Mané will likely be allowed more rest coming off of his knee injury.

It was in the full-back positions where Manchester City rotated most evenly over the five games and we saw a similar approach from Spurs over the course of the season.  Liverpool have numbers on both flanks, but the trust of the manager may not be as equally dispersed.  The veteran Milner is joined by a resurgent Alberto Moreno and new arrival Andy Robertson on the left while youngsters Gomez, Alexander-Arnold and Flanagan battle for time on the right.

The substitute Liverpool supporters always have their eye on is Daniel Sturridge, and he should expect something along the lines of Iheanacho’s allocation with 3 appearances and 1 start.

Overall City saw 23 players get on the pitch which may be a bit extreme for Jurgen Klopp’s tastes.  More than anything else Pep Guardiola was still testing new players and formations over that span where Klopp is more settled with the Reds as are his players.

In summary, expect a core group of Mignolet, Matip, Lovren, Henderson, Coutinho, Can, Salah and Firmino to all start 4 of the 5 barring injury (knock on every piece of wood you can find) with substitutions coming closer to the 60’ mark than Klopp’s familiar 80th minute changes.

Players like Wijnaldum, Sturridge, Milner and Gomez who could substitute or start in place of several from the core group will be vital for the manager. How he utilizes this group along with his fullback rotation should go a long way in determining if Liverpool can match City’s 5-0 record from last year.

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