A Look At Jurgen Klopp's Use Of Rotation This Season
The success of finishing inside the top 4 comes with the prestige of playing in Europe’s top competition – The Champions League – being in the competition means you are competing against the best and means better players have more of a chance of joining because you are partaking. The cons of being in the Champions League are the amount of extra games you must play in a season, many credit the lack of European competition as to why Chelsea were able to storm the league last season and for Liverpool’s infamous challenge for the league title back in 2013/14. Clubs like Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea have enough players in their squad to cope with the extra games but for Liverpool, it meant that Jurgen Klopp had to bulk up his squad so that he could compete on all fronts this season. As it goes Liverpool signed four players to come into the first team and allowed Lucas, Kevin Stewart and Mamadou Sakho (albeit he wouldn’t have played anyway) to leave permanently; whilst Origi and Ojo both left on loan. This meant that whilst the personnel might have improved, it hadn’t in terms of numbers and the squad crashed out of the league cup and are in a bad run of form in the league.
Whilst it’s early in the season, Liverpool have already played four champions league games, one league cup game and seven league games equalling to 12 in total so you would have expected a fair amount of rotation to ensure the squad stays fresh. Whilst some positions have seen a change in players there are a few who have started nearly every game the team has played in this season. Starting within goal Mignolet has eight starts with Karius starting three times and Ward playing against Leicester in the cup, while I understand that Klopp has three goalkeepers who are all aspiring to play first-team football I don’t think the goalkeeper needs to be rested, if his form doesn’t drop Mignolet should be playing as many games as possible to build a relationship with his defenders. In the absence of Clyne, the right back position is the most rotated – Gomez and Alexander-Arnold have had a relatively equal share. Alexander-Arnold starting six times, Gomez starting five times at right back and Flanagan making a start. Until Clyne returns from injury the position should continue to be rotated so both young players can get first-team experience.
The mainstay at centre-half is Joel Matip, starting 11 of the 12 games this season which is joint most with the captain Jordan Henderson. The partner for most of those games has been Dejan Lovren who has made eight starts; the only time that neither of the two main centre-backs have started was against Leicester in the league cup where Joe Gomez partnered Ragnar Klavan. At this point in the season it is probably best not to rotate the defenders too much so that they can build a relationship together and with the goalkeeper but if we manage to stay in the Champions League and FA Cup then Klopp is going to need to put more faith in Klavan and Gomez unless he makes a signing in the January transfer window. If it wasn’t for Alberto Moreno’s change of fortunes then these numbers would have certainly read differently but the Spaniard has started 75% of Liverpool’s games this season, the run of form Moreno has gone through has in truth helped the integration of Robertson into the team. It’s allowed Klopp to integrate his ethos into the former Hull wing-back and in the three starts, he has made he has put in excellent performances, carrying this over to his national team.
For the number of midfielders in the squad the rotation hasn’t been present all that much, as mentioned earlier Henderson has started 91% of the games so far this season; only missing the home draw to Burnley. The most used midfield three by Klopp has been Henderson, Can (nine starts) and Wijnaldum (10 starts) and that three have all started together seven times. With Coutinho being reintegrated into the starting XI that midfield three is starting to feature together less with Klopp having the Brazilian in a deeper role and once Lallana comes back from injury and Oxlade Chamberlain is ready to start games we should see the midfield rotated much more as the season goes on. Finally, we come to the front three, recent performances would have you think that Firmino and Salah had played every minute possible of the season and played all through the summer. The two of them look heavily fatigued and we’re only in October; Firmino looked sluggish in the win against Leicester and was dropped in favour of Sturridge against Newcastle and in that game Salah’s touch was poor, he only had flashes in the game and missed a chance that he arguably should have scored. The issue is, whilst they have played most of the games they haven’t been asked of anything more than other players in the squad; both Salah and Firmino have started 10 games this season with Salah coming off the bench against Crystal Palace and Firmino against Newcastle. Mane has nine starts to his name despite serving a three-match ban for his red card against Man City and Coutinho has featured on the left side of the front three twice. The issue is looking past the main three, whilst it wasn’t seen as a problem area in the summer if we are to give any of Mane, Firmino or Salah a rest the ability of those replacing them is nowhere near the level the front three have hit. This shows as Klopp has only given Solanke and Oxlade Chamberlain one start each with some appearances off the bench and Daniel Sturridge three starts. For now, you can get away with playing the main three for the majority of games but if it stays like this and we progress in the competitions we’re in then you’re asking all the players to play 50+ games in the season with the World Cup in the summer.
Overall, the rotation in most positions is non-existent so far; but that is probably to be expected as we’re only two months into the season. Once it reaches December and the games start to come thick and fast we will see more rotation throughout the whole squad and any January signings will increase this. Currently, the backups in certain positions aren’t sufficient enough to compete in all the competitions we are in – Leicester in the league cup showed this; so Klopp might need a transfer window or two to have the squad that can afford rotation like the Manchester clubs and Chelsea.