Joseph Kavaloski discusses the impact that Liverpool’s strength in depth will have on their chances of success this term.
Currently sitting in fourth place and just one point behind second-placed Tottenham, Liverpool has obviously had a strong start this season.
Much has been written about the individual performances of players such as Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, and Adam Lallana, but there is a multitude of factors that has contributed to the team’s good run of form.
One of those factors has been the vastly improved depth in the squad. Unlike the past few years, the Reds have a number of options in each position. Although playing time is scarce for squad players without European football, competition for places is a vital part of a top level team.
The benefit of having multiple players competing for playing time is twofold. Firstly, in the unavoidable event of injuries, the drop in talent level from starter to replacement is very low. A perfect example of this has been the Reds’ vast array of attacking midfield/strikers.
Roberto Firmino has been Jurgen Klopp’s first choice as the team’s central attacker in the 4-3-3 formation, but Klopp is not short of options in the Brazilian’s stead. Daniel Sturridge is a top class striker that has the ability to score 20 goals per season while Divock Origi is a blossoming young talent that was instrumental in key games last season. Plus, Mane played as a false nine in spurts at Southampton and Danny Ings has proven to be a reliable option when fit.
Firmino’s attacking fluidity and excellent defensive skills have made him one of Liverpool’s most important players, but there is not a reliance on him that results in poor performances when he cannot play.
Against Chelsea, for example, the Reds were able to play an excellent half of attacking football against one of the better sides in the league despite Firmino not being fit.
The development of the entire squad, not just the starting eleven, has also been a huge benefit.
Under Brendan Rodgers, the team was far too reliant on the fitness of Daniel Sturridge which resulted in a multitude of excuses and poor results when the Englishman could not consistently achieve match fitness.
Even though certain players may see less playing time this season when compared to the typical campaign with European competitions, the depth these players can provide off the bench is critical to the team’s success.
This brings us to the second benefit of having excellent squad depth: competition in training. The aspect of midweek training is often an overlooked part of football. Development and high-performance training in between matches is a vital aspect of a club that can go unnoticed by fans.
Tremendous squad depth has its clear advantages on match day, but the difference it can make during training is just as important. Having to consistently work hard in training improves the development of a player, and augments the importance of quickly adjusting to tactics and playing styles. Players simply cannot switch off in training otherwise, the guy behind him will be taking his place in the next match.
Klopp has previously mentioned the importance of training in the summer when many fans were calling for a new left back. The German clearly values time spent on the training ground and this has surely been a contributing factor to the team’s fast start.
The competition for places has already been fierce during the first seven matches, and the return of numerous players from injury will only increase the stakes. Key members of the first team from last season including Emre Can and Joe Gomez should both be fit for selection in the coming weeks (Can before Gomez). Can’s return, in particular, will add another top class talent to an already crowded midfield.
Klopp’s demanding tactics will always necessitate a large squad, but the positive effect it is having in terms of depth and competition has been a big part of the Reds’ success. No European matches will decrease the amount of playing time available to the squad, but this will only increase the focus and urgency on the training ground for players hoping to either earn a place in the starting eleven or simply retain their spot.
The squad has been stretched thin in recent seasons due to a limited group of players that were truly ready to play at the highest level, but 2016/17 is turning out to be the year that all changes. Whether it be Divock Origi, Marko Grujic, or Ragnar Klavan, able-bodied replacements are available in almost every position.
The positive impact of this depth may not always be seen on match days and may be expected by some, but the effect it can have on the entire squad’s performance is tremendous. A team is only as strong as its weakest link and the last man on the Liverpool bench is probably a better player than his counterpart on the opposing side.
As a result, it is no surprise that the Reds look primed for a title challenge in 2016/17.
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