Jurgen Klopp has been commended for his rotation and player management of late and rightly so in certain cases. But his decisions to rest players in the home games against Chelsea and Everton were wrong.
Yes, the goals we conceded against both were soft. Yes, we had chances to finish Everton off at 1-0. But had Klopp put out stronger sides in these games we may well have been further ahead by the time we conceded frustrating equalisers. Nobody could argue that Everton deserved a point, but they went away with one because we contrived to shoot ourselves in the foot again.
The game against Spartak Moscow was a bigger priority than the Merseyside derby, but we were out of sight quickly in that game. The Russians were never coming back and the opportunity to rest key players was there. Klopp could easily have taken three of the front four off at half-time and we would surely have run out comfortable winners. Then Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho would have been more able to start the game against Everton. The decision to rest players against rivals in big matches is a strange one and you don’t tend to see rivals doing it. Neither Manchester United nor Manchester City left key men on the bench for their derby and you’d be staggered if they did. The only one that could be pointed to is Pep Guardiola leaving Sergio Aguero out. But given his form and the obvious quality of Gabriel Jesus it can be seen as a tactical decision.
Klopp has clearly decided that after seeing his players burn out in January last year, along with all the injuries, that he would make more changes this season to make up for it. Klopp has gone from one extreme to another. He had a Winter break in Germany and it has taken him a full season here to get around the idea of not having that chance to recharge tired bodies. He has had quite the opposite, in fact, with four more league games over the course of the season and a congested festive period. But where I feel he is being overly cautious is the quantity of changes he has been making. He has made comfortably the most alterations to his team so far this season and I don’t think it was necessary in these two matches. You can go away to the likes of Stoke and Brighton with a weakened side and still win, but in tight games against rivals you need your best team playing. The Everton game wasn’t tight in terms of anything other than the score line, but we were punished for not taking our chances. Had we played our best available side it is conceivable to think that we would have created, and most likely scored, more clear cut chances.
Some will point the finger at the players for the results rather than the manager. I think it’s a combination of each. Klopp can’t be held responsible for his men not taking their chances, but he picks the team and that impacts the number of clear cut chances we will make and take. You would not expect Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to create as many as Coutinho and nor would you back Dominic Solanke to score as many as Firmino. It’s clear that better players will make and take more goal scoring opportunities than those limited to peripheral roles.
It is of course easy to look back in hindsight and criticise the team and manager when things have gone wrong. But Klopp should have learned from the Chelsea game and not gone into the Everton match with five changes to his side from the XI that hammered Spartak. It took away the momentum and meant that instead of carrying that form into the game, the two Brazilians were called for from the bench. It also meant that Mohamed Salah was withdrawn to allow Firmino to come on. Not ideal when Everton later pulled level. These situations could also be avoided by replacing the liability that is Dejan Lovren. The Croatia international always seems to have a bad moment or game immediately after talking himself up in the media. He was patting himself on the back for his performances since his nightmare against Spurs at Wembley in October. And then he shows the kind of naivety that he said he could help younger players avoid by giving Dominic Calvert-Lewin the chance to throw himself to the turf to win his side a penalty and a point.
Our form as a team has certainly improved after a mixed start to the season. But things could be better had we sent out stronger sides against these two teams. We will never know for certain, but it’s hard to believe that the side that battered Spartak Moscow wouldn’t have beaten Everton too.
And isn’t the point of rotation to keep your key players fresh for the big games?