It’s been a while since we’ve had a bench that looked anything like Premiership quality, but with the timely return of Adam Lallana and the resurgent form of both Milner and Wijnaldum, things have changed. Add to that the seeming shift in the attitude of a certain Mr. Daniel Sturridge, and we’re looking at one of the best Liverpool squads of the Premiership era.
And with such a wealth of quality now at his disposal, Klopp has inevitably chosen to adapt his tactics and play the rotation game. Now, many supporters (we included) feel a tightening of the chest when we see Robertson dropped for Moreno, or Lovren comes in for the increasingly solid Gomez. And we must admit, Jurgen might not have the poker face mentality that other managers have, but when it comes to team selection, he is doing it right. The league table doesn’t lie. Does it?
Building for the Future
It was understood way back in 2015 that when Klopp signed on the dotted line, he was not a man coming into the club to wave a magic wand and solve all its problems. Klopp signed with a long-term goal in mind, and as we expected, FSG stood by him both behind the scenes and in the transfer market. Klopp has a vision for Liverpool as he had for Dortmund and like a poker player builds his bankroll, that was to create a side that could challenge for many years to come.
But instead of throwing money at the team, he decided to work with the players he had, only signing young promising midfielder Marko Grujic in his first transfer window. The following summer, he signed only four players: Sadio Mane, Loris Karius, Ragnar Klavan and Georginio Wijnaldum. We won’t go into details on the success of each signing as you know full well how things worked out for them. But we will say that Klopp’s approach to transfers proved that he was willing to work with the players both young and old that were at his disposal to build a team for the future.
Even our much-maligned stopper Karius was a player for the future and had we a better keeper in place of Mignolet he might still be at the club as our number two. As for the manager, Klopp continued to develop his playing staff and impose his work ethic on the entire club. The team is now a meritocracy and players such as Milner and Firmino have flourished in a Liverpool shirt despite the thoughts of many.
Over the following transfer windows, Klopp realized that he had to spend to land the players he wanted and so he broke a few records and signed the players he wanted badly. But far from being a hypocrite, his activity in the transfer market proved to us real supporters that he has the club’s best interests at heart. Did you know that the man, who according to supporters of other teams is “buying success,” has only signed 13 players in his time at the club? Yes, that’s 13 players in three years to get where we are today.
That Future is Now
Like a player building his best poker hand, Klopp has managed to sign the quality players he has complete faith. That brings us to our chances of success: Is this our best opportunity to win the league in recent memory? Possibly, but the problem is that while we have improved so too have Chelsea and City and to a lesser extent Arsenal.
That said, the feeling among the Anfield faithful is that our time has finally come (yes, we’re saying this is our year) and that Klopp’s plans are coming to fruition. As far as poker hands go, we’d have to say he has a few aces up his sleeve at this stage in the game. And that brings us to our next point: the strong bench.
Quality in Depth
When was the last time you can remember a Liverpool team with a bench that boasts quality such as Sturridge and Shaqiri? A bench that depending on who’s playing could also feature the talents of Keita, Fabinho, Milner and Henderson? It’s been a long time since we could potentially field a second team that would give most teams in the league a run for their money.
Klopp’s incredible approach to coaching and getting the best out of his players has seen practically every player at the club improve their game with Moreno, Mignolet and Karius being the notable exceptions. And his transfers have addressed those exceptions to the rule. Jurgen identified the underlying issues, tried to fix them and when his in-house work failed, replaced the player with someone he believes is better. This strength-in-depth has allowed Klopp to finally rotate the team without too much fear that his actions affect our league position.
How It’s Worked Out So Far
So far, we’ve seen a lot more rotation than we expected yet at times: Klopp has played the ultimate poker player’s tactic and bluffed. Unfortunately, that tactic didn’t work out against Napoli. Everyone expected one or two of our front three to rest, but we were all surprised during the reveal of the team sheet. That led Napoli to take a slightly more reserved approach in fear of our counterattacking threat, and it nearly worked.
A few days later and when everyone expected the same team to play Man City, Klopp revealed his next poker hand, and it was one that included a certain Dejan Lovren. With Trent dropped, we all took a sharp intake of breath as we realized that Gomez would play on the right in the position that he was caught out in on numerous occasions last season. But Guardiola himself played a cautious game (and Joe was immense), and we got ourselves a point. Klopp’s use of Shaqiri and Lallana are also worth noting. As we mentioned, Lallana’s timely return has given the manager an opportunity to use Shaqiri as an explosive option coming off the bench.
The truth is, though, that as a team, we haven’t moved out of second gear, but we’re still picking up points. Klopp’s insistence on rotating some players (dropping Robertson and Trent) is working out so far and long may it continue. He has upped the ante when it comes to the art of player rotation and like a poker player, continues to play it safe. We can only imagine what will happen when he loosens the reigns, and the team starts playing as they did against Cardiff in the first half.