Are Liverpool Getting Savvier Around International Breaks?

They’re interminable, aren’t they? Just as the season is getting going, we have to endure the September international break. As things begin to get into their rhythm there’s another one in October. As the Premier League starts to get exciting there’s one in November. It’s so very tedious for those of us that couldn’t care less about England or any other International team. The good news now is that the next one isn’t until March, so we can at least watch our team uninterrupted for a couple of months and by the time that break does roll around the Premier League should have taken much more of a definitive shape. Of course, that doesn’t alter the fact that we’ve still got to get to the end of this week before the proper football returns to our screens and the run-in to Christmas gets underway.

What comes next is a period of time when Klopp’s Liverpool has traditionally had something of a dip in form. Whether we do so again this year will tell us a lot about the club’s ability to finally end its long wait for a top-flight title. Remain eight points or so clear of the chasing pack when February comes and we’ll be about as well-placed as we can be to do it. There’s a long way to go before we get there, however, and we’ll need both fortune and fitness to be on our side if we hope to lift the Premier League trophy for the first time since the competition’s invention. That’s a big part of the reason why international breaks are so hateful: the matches are generally meaningless and there’s always a risk of one of our players getting injured. When England played whoever they played yesterday, the only thing I saw online was panic over tackles going in on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Is that why the club appears to have got savvier over international footballl?

At Their Peak, United Did It All The Time

When Manchester United were winning everything that there was to win under the leadership of Alex Ferguson in the 1990s, their players would regularly find excuses to pull out of the mid-season international breaks. In 1992, for example, he told Neil Webb to make up an injury in order to get out of having to play in an international friendly between England and Czechoslovakia. Certainly when I was younger I was used to the idea of Manchester United players missing various international games in order to ensure that the Red Devils were as strong as possible for their league and cup games. Whatever you might think about Ferguson’s tactics and what the players got up to in that sense, you can’t argue with the success that they achieved on the pitch.

I get the sense that Jürgen Klopp has looked at Ferguson’s United and tried to figure out why they won so much. Take the current Liverpool set-up as an example. Whilst some supporters might moan about the presence of the likes of Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum in the middle of the park, longing for Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to be played instead, the German knows that a functional midfield allows for the more creative players to do their jobs. Think about the fact that the likes of Nicky Butt, Phil Neville and Darren Fletcher have got Premier League winners’ medals and its clear that sometimes being functional is as important as being a flair player. Does it not, therefore, make sense that the current Liverpool manager might not also have looked at how United handled international breaks and decided to copy that, too?

Look At The Players Who Have Cried Off This Time Around

Obviously it’s entirely possible that every single Liverpool player that has either missed this international break or else been sent home early by their national sides has done so for genuine reasons. That’s why I couched the topic of this article as a question rather than a statement. The proof, I would imagine, will be in the pudding when we return to action against Crystal Palace at the weekend. Does Mohamed Salah start? Does Andy Robertson? Will something emerge about the ‘personal circumstances’ cited by Virgil van Dijk for his return from duty with the Netherlands? There are five players who either didn’t turn up for international duty or else did turn up but then were promptly sent home. People like me are always going to speculate regarding the veracity of their injuries given the pointlessness of these internationals and the fact that we’re finally putting ourselves in poll position for the title.

It suggests that there’s a new-found savviness from the people pulling the strings at Anfield. I think Jürgen Klopp is an unquestionably honourable man, but I also know from his own words that he hates these international breaks. If we have indeed finally realised that the most cut-throat teams don’t just allow their players to be used and abused by their national teams then it couldn’t have come too soon for me. I’ve spent my adult life hating international football and resenting teams that treat them with the disdain that they deserve. Finally we’re seeing the Reds play the game at the same level as everything else and it’s great to see. The flip side of that, of course, is that it’s possible they all actually do have injuries, illnesses or personal circumstances that could yet see them fail to make the starting line-up at Selhurst Park on Saturday. I hope that’s not the case, however, and we’re just doing what we should have done for years.

Klopp On The Side Of The Kop

There’ll be some people that are disgusted by my attitude, obviously. There are still plenty of Liverpool fans out there who think that watching England win is more important than seeing success for the club. It’s the same sort of people who think that ‘politics should be kept out of football’, despite the fact that politics couldn’t be more closely inter-linked with the sport and Liverpool Football Club especially. I’ve written a piece in the past about the ‘Scouse, Not English’ phenomenon, so I’m not going to go over the same ground here. I’ll simply say that if we miss out on the title this season because an important player got injured in a pointless international match, I’ll be beyond fuming.

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