Can Liverpool’s Squad Be The Difference Maker?

If you wanted to view recent matches with a negative mindset, you could say that the Reds have ‘limped’ over the line in repeated matches. If, on the other hand, you were more of a ‘glass-half-full’ kind of person then you might suggest the Liverpool have done exactly enough to win all of their matches. No team in the history of football has gone an entire campaign playing phenomenal football. Instead, it is all about knowing how to find the balance between attack and defence, about saving your legs to ensure that you’ve got enough in the tank for the crucial final weeks of the season. That seems to be what Jürgen Klopp and his backroom staff have been able to do, getting the players to cruise in third gear for most of the matches that they’ve played before turning it on when they really needed to. It has seen us win the League Cup, progress in the Champions League, move to within a point of Manchester City and now make it the semi-finals of the FA Cup.

Whilst Liverpool’s 4-0 win over Barcelona in the 2018-2019 season will go down in folklore, it is worth bearing in mind that the games that came before and after it were a scrappy 3-2 win over Newcastle, which we had to dig deep for, and a nervy 2-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers. At this point in the season, results are the only things that matter. If I said to you right now that the Reds will lose one of their Champions League games against Benfica and lose to City at the Etihad, you’d probably think that that was our season over. Yet both of those things could happen and we could still win all four trophies. That is the nature of football, just as our loss to Internazionale turned out to be irrelevant to our Champions League progress. Klopp knows what is needed to make this an historic season for the Reds, with the only question being whether we can do it or not. One thing’s for certain: if we’re going to, the squad will be more important than ever.

Using The Squad Correctly Will Be Key

Having a big squad isn’t always the key in being able to win silverware. Pep Guardiola has won countless trophies over the past few seasons, even though his squad is relatively small. He has, maybe, eighteen players that he trusts to do a job for him. The quality of those players is off the scale, such is the ability of the club to spend billions attracting some of the best in the world to Manchester. Yet it isn’t the biggest squad in the top four, which might yet play a part in how the season turns out. For Jürgen Klopp, the squad that he has to work with is bigger than his Spanish rival’s, even if the level of the players outside of the top thirteen or fourteen isn’t quite as strong. For the German, the trick is going to be in figuring out how to use that squad to the best of his ability, which includes striking a balance of using squad players alongside his more ‘tried and trusted’ lads. On the recent Anfield Wrap Team Talk show, the talk was of the ‘grown-ups’ and the ‘kids’.

Though most of the players that were put into the ‘kids’ bracket were, in fact, far from young, the point that was being made was about the players that Klopp knows that he can get a performance out of against those that he is still unsure of. It is interesting, for example, that when it came to the crunch against Arsenal, the players that ended the match on the pitch were Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino. All of which is to say that playing too many of the ‘kids’ all at once, without any of the ‘grown-ups’ there to support them, can lead to a disjointed performance. That is largely what we saw play out against Nottingham Forest, given the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Harvey Elliott, and Naby Keïta all played together at the same time as Joe Gomez was in at right-back, Kostas Tsimikas came in at left-back and Ibrahima Konaté was one of the centre-halves. Playing one or two of them is fine, but six at the same time leads to disrupted play.

The International Break Will Both Help & Hinder

There is a reality about international breaks that they do one of two jobs depending on the player that you’re looking at. For some, going away with their international teammates is a nice break, giving them a chance to remember how it feels to be a big fish in a small pond. Both Sadio Mané and Mo Salah will relish their World Cup Qualifying game, even if one of them is going to return to Anfield disappointed. For others, meanwhile, international duty is little more than a continuation of the responsibility that they already carry. Whilst Harry Kane might wear the captain’s armband for England, there is little doubt that Jordan Henderson carries out the actual role of being a captain. How heavily that weighs on him is a matter for some debate, but given the fact that he is Jürgen Klopp’s most used player this season, he would definitely benefit from not having to worry about looking after everyone else for a couple of weeks and definitely shouldn’t be playing.

Of course, there are a number of players that won’t be going on international duty. Not only is this a chance for the manager to work with those players, it is also an opportunity for them to get a much-needed rest. Joel Matip has already played more minutes than most people will have expected from him, so giving him a breather could make a huge difference for the final few months of the season. April is going to be absolutely huge for Liverpool’s ambitions, so having a few players that are rested and ready to go might be enough to get us over the line. The news that Trent Alexander-Arnold’s injury wasn’t as bad as first feared will be music to the manager’s ears, to say nothing of us supporters. A rested Trent could be a difference-maker. If the manager can find the balance with his squad, the players that he has available to him to bring in and mix things up might be able to give the Reds an era-defining end of season, which is something we can all enjoy.

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