Scott Groom discusses whether or not Jurgen Klopp’s rotation policy is sapping his side of its regular rhythm and fluidity this season.
It’s been a peculiar start to the season for Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool side: unbeaten in the league and sitting joint second, just two points behind Manchester City, while only losing three games in all competitions all season at the hands of Chelsea, Napoli and Red Star Belgrade.
It is the most recent of those losses, however, that has attracted a considerable amount of focus and criticism from fans, as it was the manner of Liverpool’s defeat in Serbia that has irked us all the most.
A lethargic, cumbersome and uninspired performance, and the Reds were deservedly beaten 2-0 in Belgrade.
Performances across the pitch were simply not up to standard, and those players drafted in by Klopp on the night caught the eye for all of the wrong reasons.
Lallana, Sturridge and Matip were all brought in for the tie, with many questioning if it was a bold move to make before the game even started – and it’s fair to say that none of those brought in really did much of a job. I must point out at this point, however, that they were not alone. Even players like Wijnaldum and van Dijk who are usually so reliable had off-days, to say the least.
Klopp’s selection choices do raise a few interesting points, though. Firstly, was he wrong to perhaps underestimate Red Star Belgrade a little, by fielding a bit of a second-string side? Hindsight tells us that the answer to this question is a yes.
The other point the game raises comes as a result of these changes – is Klopp perhaps trying too hard to tinker with his starting line-up to the detriment of the team and its performances?
The boss has now tried and tested and tampered with his starting line-up on an almost weekly basis this season, and sometimes it seems like there could well be a lack of cohesion because of it.
The midfield three of Milner, Wijnaldum and Lallana on Tuesday night is a combination that has rarely, if ever (please correct me if I’m wrong) been used before, so how are these players supposed to form a fluid footballing trio of pressing, incisive play and positioning brilliance? They’re not, because they don’t know each other’s game.
It also makes a mockery of Klopp’s own words slightly, as he has said on numerous occasions that players need games to get into a rhythm and that players in that rhythm are far more effective than those that aren’t.
But between Sturridge, Lallana and Matip, the trio have barely clocked up 10 games worth of minutes all season, so how can they be expected to be in any sort of groove? It’s near impossible.
So much of Liverpool’s success under Klopp has come from using a regimented team which tactics that he knows utilise his players’ assets to their full capacity.
The front three of Mané, Salah and Firmino was a constant in the side which undoubtedly aided their on-field bond and understanding, helping them to record such an incredible season of goals, assists and all-round breathtaking football.
Granted, these three remain the first three on the team sheet each week, but what lies behind them in the midfield is still rather up in the air. It is, without doubt, a brilliant dilemma to have, to be able to choose from such an array of midfield talent – but it brings with it its pitfalls.
It leads Klopp towards changing things, sometimes more so than he actually has to, and on a more frequent basis, too.
See what I was saying about making a mockery of his own comments on rhythm?
I do understand though that these fringe players need minutes in order to build up that match fitness and sharpness, but there is a time and a place for this. A pivotal Champions League group match on testing soil is not that place.
The Red Star fixture is just one example of this, but it has been seen on a few other occasions this season, where changes to the side haven’t had the desired effect.
This is because I don’t think that Klopp genuinely knows what his best midfield line-up is at this moment in time.
So does this mean that the rotation will continue? Probably.
But something needs to change. Xherdan Shaqiri has been mighty impressive since his £13m bargain switch from Stoke in the summer and has provided some of the sparkling link-up play between midfield and attack, and that is what Reds need to see more of.
More of that, more of Naby Keita, more of the form we saw last season – and more consistency in the line-up is what’s going to achieve that for us.