Klopp and his substitutions – lacking impact from the bench?

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The 1-1 draw against Burnley on Saturday saw Liverpool wrap up the most disappointing week of the season so far.  The usual combination of a complete defensive meltdown – 3 of our 4 defenders should take blame for the Burnley goal, and missed chances led to two points dropped against a side that rarely wins away from their home. There is a lot to get frustrated about over the last three games. Bad luck against Manchester City followed by a complete capitulation and two very Liverpool games at Anfield, which we should have won but somehow drew. Fans could feel the game against Sevilla slipping away and that the Reds will not break down Burnley’s carefully parked bus. Jurgen Klopp however was very patient in both games making his first substitution in the 75th (after Sevilla equalised) and 79th minute respectively. Waiting to make a change has become a bit of a trend for the German.


After vastly reducing the squad size in his first summer transfer window Jurgen Klopp had to deal with lack of depth and options on the bench. His substitution pattern from last season proves that the German didn’t really trust the players sitting beside him when the ref blows for the match to start:

Sub number Times used Average minute When trailing When drawing When winning Score change after
1 38 65′ 56′ 59′ 72′ +5
2 34 81′ 71′ 83′ 82′ +4
3 28 87′ 82′ 89′ 88′ +1

Score change after is the goal difference of the club after the substitution was made.

On four accessions he only used one substitute. At Bournemouth, Lallana came on for Mane with the Reds leading 3-1, the Cherries managed to get all the points and Klopp made no further changes. In the game that followed LFC drew 2-2 at Anfield versus West Ham with the only substitution being Klavan coming on for the injured Lovren. Phil Coutinho came on for Divock Origi against Man United with Liverpool leading 1-0 only to draw 1-1. The last time only one sub was used last season was again versus Bournemouth. Matip came on for Coutinho with the Reds leading (again) 2-1 and losing 2 points to Joshua King’s late goal. In all 4 cases the Reds dropped points (3 times from a winning position). Indeed in some of the cases the players available on the bench weren’t very experienced. But that is no excuse – if you are not good enough to make a difference you shouldn’t be making the Liverpool bench.

In ten Premier league matches the third substitution was not used. But even when Klopp decided to actually use it – it was very late, mainly for time wasting. Especially when we were not trailing. In most matches the team played close to 90 minutes with only two subs used. To a lesser extent this is also valid for the second substitution. The manager waited for over 80 minutes to make it when we were not in a losing position. The 65th minute might not look too late on average for the first sub but if forced substitutions due to injury are removed from the sample, Klopp made his first sub on average in the 70th minute. After the German made his first sub, the Reds managed to outscore their opponents by a total of 5 goals for the full 2016/2017 season – very little impact.

Given the numbers above it is now surprising LFC didn’t enjoy having great impact from the bench late in games. The notable exception is the match against Stoke, when Coutinho and Firmino came on at half-time and completely turned the game around. However, this was the exception rather than the rule last season. Origi came on 20 times, on average in the 74th minute (9 times after the 80th), rarely having any real impact on the outcome of the game – the total score change after the Belgian was subbed on last season is 0.

The trend continues?…

As far as the numbers go, the trend from 2016/2017 continued in the first 5 PL games of 2017/2018. The subs on average are done in the 68th, 75th and 88th minute respectively. The bench has had no positive impact on the outcome of any of the matches. But it wasn’t supposed to be that way. The only player, who played a significant role last season and left the club in the summer, is Lucas.

Liverpool made four first team signings, the youngsters are a year older and had a season of being around the first team. And while we missed out on a much needed centre-back, depth in all other areas shouldn’t be a problem. The Reds started the season with Adam Lallana, Nathaniel Clyne and Phil Coutinho injured (allegedly). Dejan Lovren has also been in and out of the squad in the couple of weeks with some minor problems. Sadio Mane is currently serving a three match suspension. And yet against Burnley on Saturday our bench had impact players on it – Wijnaldum and Henderson were left unused with the Ox and Solanke coming on in the 79th minute. Only Klopp knows why he decided not bring one of them on, and why he waited so long to even make a change. The squad finally has some depth in midfield and attack, Klopp needs to find a better way to use that when the starting eleven is struggling to break down a defence or contain attacking play. My opinion is that the German is sometimes overconfident in the players on the pitch. With injuries being healed and bans expiring the quality of the match day squads will only improve. It is time for Klopp to show us, that he can manage his bench better.

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  1. Stefan, EXCELLENT article. I was thinking the same topic too since last year. However, as a precautionary factor, this German is born in the year of Goat (Chinese zodiac). And boy oh boy, trust me Stefan, I had a 2 year contract partnering someone in a small cafe business, and guess what?? Don’t even dream nor talk about your suggestions / inputs for GOATS are traditionally the MOST stubborn, more so than someone born in the year of COW. To further cement my belief as such (we go for the 80:20 logic to be fair ok) and my 2 closest friends encountered EXACTLY the same traits/character with their ‘goatie’ sibblings / nephew) !! Coincidence? I guess not for the Chinese Zodiac does not exist for thoiusands of years for no reason. Just a thought. Notwithstanding this, we Liverpool fans have to just brace ourselves for more of Klopp’s stubborness or just enjoy whatever ride . That said, I shall choose the ‘other’ option which is, I switch off my expectation for Liverpool or I can just switch off my laptop/tv whenever Liverpool’s games are played. (this much I can tell you as to how the German has sapped my energies as far as supporting Liverpool is concerned) To quote Klopp recently : MOST TEAMS WOULD WANT OUR DEFENDERS1 (I’m sorry klopp, I guess you had meant 2nd Division / Championship teams? PERIOD.

  2. I’ll be honest – did not expect such a comment 🙂
    His stubbornness also brings a lot of positives – mainly The system. Enjoy the ride, I’m certain we will get to the promise land with Klopp in charge.


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