Just what is Jürgen Klopp’s biggest problem in his role as Liverpool manager? He admittedly doesn’t have many but Jack Hallows thinks he’s found a valid answer.
It’s been a huge talking point surrounding Jürgen Klopp and his tactical approach to different situations this season and once again, it came back to bite him against Southampton.
Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana were on the bench waiting for their moment if the Reds required attacking reinforcements but Klopp continued to wait it out.
It was expected that perhaps there would be a half-time change to tweak the tactics and provide some extra penetration but no such event occurred. In fact, once again, it wasn’t until well into the final half hour before Klopp turned to his bench and summoned the English pair.
It wasn’t as if Origi or Lucas – the pair who were taken off – had been setting the pitch ablaze with quality – Origi was honestly the worst player on the pitch. Klopp had simply waited too long to make his changes.
In fact, while Lallana failed to make a difference in his 21 minutes on the field, Sturridge was another story. The English striker showed his class by creating three chances and taking two shots at goal in his 20-minute cameo, more chances than Wijnaldum, Origi, Can and Lucas put together.
The most frustrating part? This has become an all too familiar scenario this season.
Inactivity & lack of minutes
Klopp has been often criticised for being too inactive with his bench this season and using it as a way to eat up minutes at the end of games rather than to try and influence a game.
The Reds have only seen a grand total of six goals scored by substitutes in the Premier League this season with Divock Origi (2), Daniel Sturridge, Gini Wijnaldum, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino (1) the only players to manage the feat.
While a lot of this is admittedly down to the quality of the Reds options available throughout the season – the likes of Ben Woodburn, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Alberto Moreno and Ragnar Klavan are hardly going to score you a goal a game – you just can’t look past the lack of minutes Klopp’s handed his actual potential game changers.
Much has been made of the fact that Daniel Sturridge has only managed two league goals this season but the Englishman has barely been given a chance.
When fit, Sturridge has started just five games this campaign, featuring a further 13 times off the bench. His total minutes across these 13 substitute appearances? 275… averaging out at 21 minutes per appearance. In fact, he’s only been given longer than half an hour on two occasions – one at Swansea due to Adam Lallana’s injury and once at Anfield when the same opposition came to visit in January.
It’s a similar story for Origi who has just two goals in 19 substitute appearances. The Belgian was given 57 minutes against Sunderland back in December due to Philippe Coutinho’s injury and 34 against Everton in the recent Anfield derby due to an injury to Sadio Mané and guess what? He netted important goals on both occasions.
Across his other 17 matches, he’s featured for a total of just 242 minutes, averaging 14 minutes per appearance and featuring for less than 15 minutes on 9 occasions. Realistically what can any player – maybe Ronaldo and Messi aside – do with that little playing time across a season?
The most baffling part for me, in all honesty, is that when Klopp actually has turned to his bench in a ‘proactive’ manner, he’s made the completely wrong decision on more than one occasion.
Take the two matches this season against Bournemouth for example. Cruising at 3-1 up, Klopp opted to go for the jugular and instead of bolstering his midfield or defence in an effort to just settle for three points, he brought on another attacker in a half fit Lallana, inviting pressure from the home side and eventually costing the Reds the game.
In the return leg, the Reds had the ascendancy an hour in at 2-1 up and had the opportunity to have a real go for a third goal. Instead, Liverpool’s most threatening attacker – Philippe Coutinho – was taken off with half an hour remaining for Jöel Matip.
Klopp then opted to switch to a back 3-come-5 and ordered his team to sit off, soak up the pressure and grind out a tough result. It was unnecessary and shifted the dynamics of the game, handing the visitors the momentum for long enough that they scraped a late equaliser after some shoddy defending from Klavan.
It’s these unusual changes that make me question Klopp’s belief in his side at times and whether he genuinely worries that this squad isn’t good enough.
Time to ‘Make a Change’
If Jürgen Klopp doesn’t trust his options on the bench then it just brings around another tired argument. Why didn’t he buy in January? With Sadio Mané off at AFCON, January was the perfect time for Klopp to address the attacking imbalance in his squad and seek to find a solution to rectify it. Instead, he chose to ignore it and paper up the cracks until Mané returned.
This summer, Klopp has got to go hard into the transfer window and really seek to bolster his options. Not just because it will provide healthy competition for starting places but also to add some actual threat and X factor from his bench.
The Reds cannot afford to go another season without quality waiting to come on and make the difference – especially not when dealing with European football. The time for the academy players to make their mark will come but it’s not next season. Next season we need quality options available.