Analysing Jurgen Klopp’s substitutions

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Jurgen Klopp has made some gamechanging substitutions in crucial fixtures recently.

Most notably, of course, there was the daring triple sub against Inter Milan at the San Siro. Off went Harvey Elliott, Sadio Mane and, surprisingly, Fabinho and on came Naby Keita, Luis Diaz and Jordan Henderson. The subsequent improvement in the Reds’ display was stark, and they scored twice in 15 tie-clinching minutes at the end of the game.

Then, against Arsenal, he sent on Roberto Firmino in place of Diogo Jota only moments after the Portuguese forward had scored, and it enabled Liverpool to establish a grip on the game after 56 largely disjointed minutes. They hammered home their advantage, with Firmino swiftly doubling the lead, rather than letting Arsenal back into it.

That change – Firmino on, Jota off – is actually Liverpool’s most common this season. Klopp has now made it five times (and pulled the reverse twice).

But who else does Klopp typically turn to from his reverse ranks? And who is regularly withdrawn before the 90 minutes are up?

With the international break upon us, what better time to take a step back and assess Klopp’s substitution strategy?

When does Klopp make his changes?

First sub

  • 16-20 x 1
  • 21-25 x 1
  • 41-45 x 1
  • HT x 3
  • 56-60 x 8
  • 61-65 x 10
  • 66-70 x 7
  • 71-75 x 3
  • 76-80 x 2
  • 81-85 x 1

Second sub

  • 56-60 x 4
  • 61-65 x 9
  • 66-70 x 5
  • 71-75 x 3
  • 76-80 x 8
  • 81-85 x 5
  • 86-90 x 1
  • 90+ x 1

Third sub

  • 55-60 x 1
  • 60-65 x 1
  • 65-70 x 2
  • 70-75 x 2
  • 75-80 x 4
  • 80-85 x 8
  • 85-90 x 11
  • Post-90 x 4

The first thing to note here is that we’re only looking at the Premier League and Champions League, because otherwise things could be slightly skewed by the heavy rotation in the early rounds of the domestic cups.

You can see that Klopp most often makes his first sub between the hour mark and the 65th minute, as you’d imagine most managers do. It’s very rare that he’ll change personnel at half time, or leave it until the final 20 minutes before doing so.

There’s markedly more variation with the second change, but the pattern is fixed with the third: it doesn’t tend to arrive until the final 10 minutes. Again, you’d think that’s about in line with most of his counterparts in the Premier League.

Who comes on?

  • 14 times – Milner
  • 11 – Minamino, Firmino
  • 8 – Oxlade-Chamberlain, Origi, Keita, Thiago
  • 7 – Gomez, Jota
  • 6 – Henderson, Jones
  • 4 – Fabinho
  • 3 – Tsimikas, Mane, Salah
  • 2 – N. Williams, Diaz, Elliott
  • 1 – Six players

Sometimes the data merely confirms your suspicions. Klopp always seems to turn to Milner, who offers vast experience as well as a near-guaranteed game-disrupting yellow card. On average, the veteran is introduced around the 77th minute, bang in the ‘see it out’ window.

It’s not surprising to see Minamino so high up in his role as an auxiliary forward (Origi is joint-third with eight), but it’s worth noting that he doesn’t tend to come until about the 80th minute, meaning he only has a very small window in which to impress.

By contrast, Firmino will typically be introduced shortly after the hour, though his position in this ranking does indicate that his importance has diminished (his lack of starts is partly down to injuries too).

What else stands out here? Well, Klopp clearly likes to introduce Thiago and Keita, both of whom can help his side exert more control, and Joe Gomez also gets plenty of run-outs, albeit only for nine minutes on average.

Who comes off?

  • 16 times – Diogo Jota
  • 11 – Thiago, Oxlade-Chamberlain
  • 10 – Keita
  • 9 – Henderson
  • 8 – Mane
  • 7 – Firmino, Salah
  • 6 – Milner
  • 5 – Jones, Diaz
  • 4 – Trent
  • 3 – Fabinho
  • 2 – Robertson, Tsimikas, Elliott, Origi
  • 1 – Minamino, N. Williams

If you asked Liverpool fans to guess who would top this ranking, most would probably have said Jota, but the margin he possesses is still startling. At this point, he won’t be remotely surprised when he sees his number raised.

Elsewhere, it’s no coincidence that Thiago, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Keita are up there in both tables. It speaks to the need to manage their fitness levels carefully.

Klopp may opt to effectively rotate Thiago and Keita for the remainder of the campaign, knowing that it’s risky to demand too much of either of them.

It’s somewhat surprising to see Henderson so high up, but he does lead the squad for appearances, so there’s probably an element of avoiding those dreaded ‘red zone’ fatigue levels.

Lastly, Salah won’t be happy to have come off seven times given his ravenous pursuit of individual accolades. Indeed, Klopp has admitted that he’s hesitant to take him off even when a game is won for that very reason.

What are the most common changes?

5 times – Firmino on, Jota off

4 – Milner on, Thiago off

3 – Minamino on, Jota off; Origi on, Henderson off; Oxlade-Chamberlain on, Jota off;  Minamino on, Oxlade-Chamberlain off; Henderson on, Thiago off 

2 – 18 combinations

In Jota and Firmino, Klopp has two very different centre-forward options. One player struggles to influence the game outside the penalty area but is deadly in its confines, while the other drops deep to great effect but is an unreliable finisher.

The manager knows, then, that bringing Firmino on is likely to change the game, and potentially benefit the two wingers either side of him.

Plenty of Liverpool supporters would, I’m sure, bristle at the second combination given the gulf in technical skill and watchability, but it’s clear that Klopp values what Milner can provide and isn’t all that fearful of a loss of control.

Highest subbed-on %

  • Minamino – 86%
  • Origi – 80%
  • Gomez – 78%
  • Milner – 62.5%
  • Firmino – 55%
  • Ox – 48%
  • Jones – 40%
  • Keita – 40%

It’s important that the numbers above are placed in the context of appearance totals. Firmino and Minamino, for example, have both come on 11 times, but you can see that that makes up a far larger share of the latter’s 14 outings.

Similarly, Joe Gomez’s tally of nine appearance is somewhat deceptive when you consider that only two of them have been starts.

Highest subbed-off %

Relative to appearances

  • Diaz – 63%
  • Thiago – 50%
  • Keita – 50%
  • Jota – 50%
  • Ox – 48%
  • Firmino – 35%
  • Elliott – 33%
  • Jones – 33%

Relative to starts

  • Origi – 100%
  • Diaz – 84%
  • Oxlade-Chamberlain – 84%
  • Keita – 83%
  • Thiago – 79%
  • Firmino – 77%
  • Milner – 67%
  • Jota – 64%

The second set of figures are more representative, though it’s probably best to overlook the top two here because of the small sample sizes – Origi has only started two games, and Diaz six.

This lays bare the extent of Liverpool’s load management when it comes to Keita and Thiago, though, and also shows you why players like Oxlade-Chamberlain might easily become frustrated. They only start around one in every three games, but even when they do they so rarely see full time.

Firmino is also quite high up here – does that point more to inconsistency of performance or a lack fitness?

How often does Klopp make full use of his bench?

Of the 37 PL and UCL games under consideration here, Klopp has used every available sub on 34 occasions.

The three times he didn’t? Brentford away, City at home and Inter at home – all games, intriguingly, which Liverpool failed to win.

With injury levels at Anfield now normalised (touch wood) and Klopp finally able to reap the benefits of a deep squad, making the right subs at the right time could be key in the pursuit of silverware.

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