The Reds face a task both new and old to them this year and that’s building a squad worthy of the Champions League come the fall. While big games against Chelsea, City and even Manchester United proved that on their best days they could tangle with other giants of the game, their low points this past season just shone a light on what we all saw - they were only as strong as their starting XI.
“The actual team, the XI, could go up against anyone – we saw that in the big games with some great results in those games,” Jamie Carragher, Liverpool’s legend-turned-pundit told the club website recently. “But over the season, especially around Christmas and January, it was evident that the squad wasn’t big enough or strong enough. That needs adding to.”
With a whole new tournament to play for next season, arguably the biggest tournament to play for, Liverpool are going to need all the help they can get. Their season was nearly over halfway through with the devastating injuries and absences that caused them to lose much of their momentum. Carra agrees that the club would do well to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
“But rather than just adding players to the squad, you want to add players to the team. If you add three or four players and they go straight into the first XI, three or four of those who were playing week in, week out last season go to the bench,” he continued. “It makes the bench a lot stronger and your team a lot stronger. It’s not just numbers. It’s about getting the right quality that can go straight into the team.”
Easier said than done in this day and age. It’s no secret that any player worth his salt wants to play as much as possible and that’s been part of the debate when it comes to buying proven players. Who of our current, mostly strong XI do we bench? Who would be willing to take a week out of the league, if it meant playing in the Champions League midweek? Who do we save for the domestic cups? A manager’s eternal dilemma.
“It’s not easy to get that right, picking the right players at the right time is a real skill. And it will be huge, especially with Champions League football in midweek if we get in there,” Carragher said. “And then you’re playing Saturday morning or Saturday at 3pm. It’s not a great turnaround in terms of time, recovery and recuperation.
“[Klopp] showed last season, at times, if someone wasn’t right he didn’t play them. You go back to the Stoke game, how vital that was – [Philippe] Coutinho and [Roberto] Firmino were on the bench because they weren’t right physically.
“If any player isn’t right physically throughout the season, he won’t play them. He needs that squad because he will have to chop and change.”
It won’t be easy, but Jürgen Klopp has made it clear he’s willing to be as ruthless as needed to get through matches. The other matter surrounds whose egos can handle being benched for “the greater good” as it might be. Would big name players, new to the Premier League but bought for their CL experience, be willing to sit out? Carragher himself played mostly through the Champions League campaigns under Rafa Benitez, so that might be an issue he’s as well versed in. But if anyone knows the pressure that comes from those European games, it’ll be him. Pressure that Liverpool have been without for far too long, but hopefully will be able to manage - with the right help in the end.
“We haven’t been in it too often of late and it’s something we have to be in now year in, year out, it has to be the minimum requirement as it was when we were playing,” he added. “It’s a lot tougher to get in now, there’s a lot more competition, I must say, from when I was playing. It’s huge to get in but it can’t be a one-off like it was last time, we’ve got to try to make sure we’re in there year in, year out.”
He’s absolutely right - Champions League qualification should be the norm. The joy and optimism we’re feeling this season (outside of the transfer window at least) needs to be the norm, for a club like Liverpool. The quality is there, it just needs a boost. Champions League can be that boost. Needs to be.