Monday 11 December 2017 11:48, UK
Jurgen Klopp paid the penalty for his Merseyside derby changes as Everton snatched a scarcely deserved point at Anfield on Sunday. Adam Bate looks at the Liverpool manager’s rotation policy and why supporters are entitled to feel confused…
Jurgen Klopp was fuming even before Sky Sports reporter Pat Davison brought up the subject of the Liverpool manager's team selection. It was a penalty call for Everton's unlikely equaliser that had incensed him but in the cold light of day perhaps it was his own decisions, as well as those of referee Craig Pawson, that the club's supporters will be scrutinising.
"I am slightly surprised by that team," former Liverpool captain Jamie Carragher had told Sky Sports before kick-off. "I just hope it does not backfire on Jurgen Klopp." And while there can be no doubt that Liverpool would have been worthy winners given their total domination of the game, their manager knows that his six changes open him up to criticism.
Klopp not only left Firmino and Philippe Coutinho on the bench, giving Dominic Solanke his first Premier League start at Anfield, but it was Mo Salah whom he withdrew midway through the second half while only one goal up. At no point did Everton have to face the so-called Fab Four. In fact, the Reds only got three of them on the pitch for the last 12 minutes.
"That's my job," Klopp explained afterwards. "I make decisions before I know they are right and afterwards it is your job to say I am not right, I've no problem with that. Yes, I am sure it was the right decision. We brought on Robert Firmino for Mo Salah. We could have scored before. We could have scored afterwards. We could have scored all the time."
Liverpool are playing Champions League football under Klopp for the first time this season and that means a more demanding schedule. His solution to this has been a rotation policy more drastic than any other team in the Premier League. Klopp has made 59 changes to his starting line-up in the competition this season - 20 more than any other side.
Given the physical demands of the high-intensity game that Klopp favours, it makes some sense to rotate the attacking talent in the squad. Indeed, Klopp has been criticised in the past for running his players into the ground. What is more, the consequences of not freshening up the team enough could be seen in Chelsea's lacklustre display at West Ham on Saturday.
The frustration for fans is not so much that Klopp feels the need to rest his key men but that his rotation policy saw him leave them out for a match of this magnitude. Only last week Carragher praised Klopp's savvy changes - "he's getting it right now, changing players at the right time" - but nobody anticipated such widespread changes for a Merseyside derby.
Was there a better way? During the latter years of Sir Alex Ferguson's long reign at Manchester United, one of his greatest qualities was the ability to identify when he planned to rest certain players long in advance. There was a strategy to his team selections that looked well beyond the next game.
A look at Liverpool's fixture list would suggest that Klopp could have done this better. "We're at a part of the season that you have to make changes," he argued on Sunday. "All Champions League sides made a lot of changes in midweek. We couldn't do that, we had to go through a very intense game." He was referring to the 7-0 win over Spartak Moscow.
While it is true that Liverpool went into that game believing they needed to win to guarantee top spot in Group E, did Klopp really need to play Coutinho and Salah for the full match? Curiously, it was Firmino who he opted to withdraw for the final 20 minutes only for the Brazilian to be one of the players omitted from the team on Sunday.
Perhaps Klopp believed that an Everton team enduring a difficult season would be an easier fixture and for much of the match that view would certainly have been justified. But while Liverpool's schedule is demanding, their opponents on Wednesday are in even worse shape. On paper, a home game against a West Brom side without a win in 15 is as easy as it gets.
Would that not have been a more opportune time to give his Brazilian duo a rest? Instead, both are likely to return to the fold alongside Salah in midweek. That is a situation that will confuse rather than convince the club's fans and leave the rest of us to conclude that the two dropped points at Anfield on Sunday were avoidable in more ways than one.