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Liverpool Coaching Staff at Odds over Substitution Snafu

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Assistant manager Zeljko Buvac was reportedly furious with John Achterberg for Saturday’s sub delay.

Liverpool v Swansea City - Premier League Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

Having signed on as Liverpool’s goalkeeping coach in 2011 under Kenny Dalglish, John Achterberg has since then overseen the decline of Pepe Reina, inconsistencies of Simon Mignolet, and the struggles of Loris Karius. Whether or not the coach is the one ultimately to blame, the record is one that’s hard to ignore.

Mignolet’s troubles have been well documented, but it’s worth noting that Reina was one of the league’s best up until Achterberg’s arrival and that Karius was rated the second best stopper in the Bundesliga before making the switch to Anfield. And now, Achterberg might be catching flack for more than just Liverpool’s goalkeeping.

According to The Times’ Paul Joyce—widely considered the most respected and connected journalist when it comes to Liverpool Football Club—Achterberg infuriated the rest of the Liverpool coaching staff, and assistant Zeljko Buvac in particular, for his role in the delayed introduction of Adam Lallana on Saturday.

Liverpool had intended to bring Lallana on around the 80th minute, but he didn’t make it on until after Chelsea had equalized in the 85th. At the time, it appeared referee Michael Oliver refused to allow Liverpool to make the switch, but the real problem may have been that Achterberg didn’t properly request the substitution.

In addition to his role as goalkeeping coach in training, on matchday Achterberg is tasked with liaising with the fourth official, and when Liverpool are to make a change it is his job to request it. On Saturday, he didn’t do so in time, leading to a heated exchange with Buvac—that became more heated after Chelsea then scored.

Even if the goal, when it came, was more fluke that skill and guile on Chelsea’s part, it marked the second game in a row where Liverpool left their changes too late, reacting to an obvious and ongoing tactical problem after conceding when there appeared to have been ample time to address it well before that point.

As a result of that—a result of two games and four dropped points due to game mismanagement—there has been some criticism of manager Jürgen Klopp being too willing to let his players try to play through bad spells on their own. On Saturday, though, Klopp may actually have had very little to do with the delay.

Now, the question turns to what comes next. Mistakes happen, and it’s not reasonable to think Achterberg would lose his job over such a mixup. If Klopp and Buvac do think he’s to blame, though, and if he departs before the start of next season, Saturday might well be looked back at as the beginning of the end.