Jurgen Klopp has received a lot of flak for his constant chopping and changing of the team, especially earlier in September. Everyone with an ounce of an opinion out there, including me, has pointed out that this constant rotation could hurt Liverpool.
It seemed that Klopp noticed it himself and stopped with the regular rotation, at least in the outfield. Between the team that started the league game against Leicester and the team that started in Moscow, there were two outfield changes, both forced by red cards. Sadio Mane was not available against the Foxes but was available against Spartak Moscow, which meant that Coutinho moved back into the midfield displacing Wijnaldum. On the other end, Joe Gomez was suspended for a game in Europe, and hence Trent Alexander Arnold was brought in.
Then, on Sunday against Newcastle, Klopp again made only two outfield changes, bringing back Joe Gomez and replacing Roberto Firmino with Sturridge. But yet again, at St. James’ Park, Liverpool suffered from the same old afflictions of a nervous defence and a blunt attack. You can accuse me of using hindsight, but I think Klopp did miss a few tricks in selecting his squad against Newcastle United.
Let me elaborate. Rafa Benitez is well known for demanding defensive solidity from his teams. More so, against an attacking outfit like his old club Liverpool. So, it was quite expected that the Magpies would be content to sit back and hand Liverpool the initiative, as well as the possession. That is exactly how it panned out.
Now, in response to such a setup, let us look at the three things that Klopp got wrong in my humble opinion.
Klopp Started with Sturridge
Yes, Roberto Firmino has looked out of sorts in the last few games. He has not looked anywhere similar to the player who destroyed Hoffenheim in two matches in August. But he still has one attribute that Sturridge does not have. Daniel Sturridge needs space to run into and to unleash his shots. Rafa put a special premium price on space in Sunday’s game. Daniel Sturridge had only 4 shots against Newcastle, with a total xG of 0.52. He had not even a single key pass to his name.
Firmino, on the other hand, can operate in tight spaces. He can get himself out of those and bring other players into the game. Even when his own scoring form is not great, he can create space for others by pulling players from their positions. Also, this season, Sturridge has performed far better as a substitute than as a starter. These reasons should have pushed Klopp to start with Firmino and bring Sturridge on as a sub if required.
Why Rest Emre Can?
Klopp had withdrawn Emre Can after 71 minutes against Spartak on Wednesday night. Newcastle game was on Sunday evening. There were three entire days for Can to recover from his exertions and travel. Why did he need to make way for Gini Wijnaldum on Sunday? It is a well-known fact that Wijnaldum is a poor traveller and while he might have scored several goals at St. James’ Park as a Magpie, he is now a Red, and his form always dithers away from Anfield. On the other hand, Emre Can offers a much better attacking option than Wijnaldum. He also provides a better screening of the defence than either Henderson or Gini offer. So, was Klopp doing a favour on the German national team by benching one of his better midfielders before an international break?
As this article puts it, Joe Gomez is a centre- back who can also play as a right back. This makes him more defensive and perhaps a better option against more attack-minded opponents. But against an opponent focused on defence and without any significant aerial superiority on the wings, Trent Alexander Arnold is a much better option. He is more attacking and has a better cross than Gomez. Regarding defensive nervousness, both are similar. So, other than the midweek travel and 90 minutes played against Spartak Moscow, there was no reason for Trent not to start on Sunday. But if midweek exertions were a cause for concern, why did Klopp not change the other full-back?
Of course, these thoughts are with the benefit of hindsight, and Klopp had to make those selections before starting the game against Newcastle United. So, we cannot fault him too much. It would be better if his selections reflect the anticipated tactics from the opponents in a better manner. But other than that, I think we should just be happy that he has decided to stop the constant rotation.