Last season, Jürgen Klopp didn’t rotate his squad and it came back to haunt him as Liverpool stumbled into the early months of 2017 and the promise of an early title challenge gave way to a fight for the top four. This year, with Champions League commitments added to the mix, it was important to not make that mistake again.
To his credit, Klopp hasn’t. Key but tired players have been rested more frequently, injured players have been given a chance to return to a more conservative schedule, and the manager has rotated heavily in the hopes of setting up a team that will peak in the second half of the season rather than one that peaks at the start of it.
On Sunday, that rotation saw Klopp send out a side that were vastly superior to their opponents on the day. Yet they drew the match. The resulting criticism was unfair, short-sighted, and lacking of memory—it ignored how much better Liverpool were, how busy their fixture list is, and what happened when they didn’t rotate last year.
“Accepting that the result is always king, as manager of this team I still cannot ignore the many, many positive aspects to how we played on Sunday.” Klopp noted of the undeserved draw, accepting the result but refusing to back down—his team played well on the day, and in the larger picture rotation is very much necessary.
“That is as a team and the performance of individuals. Dominic Solanke showed why we see him as such an important person. I loved his performance and what he did. Andrew Robertson has been parked in the garage this season more than he would have liked certainly, but when he gets his chance he shows his quality.”
There was only one team in it on Sunday; only one team that tried to play football. And opponents Everton didn’t even defend especially well or show any intent to try to work a chance or two on the counter as other stubborn defensive sides have when facing Klopp’s Liverpool. Scoreline aside, the positives were clear.
And while the scoreline may, in the end, be what matters most, that everything else was a clear positive for Liverpool and Klopp—and for the manager’s embrace of rotation, the lack of which he has been criticised for in his first few years at Anfield—augers well for the team’s chances heading into the new year this year.
Drawing against Everton, especially while being the far better team, is certainly an annoyance. Having a team that will be set up to peak, physically, in the knockout rounds of the Champions League and in the final stretch of the league season, though, is a long-term positive that clearly outweighs that short-term annoyance.
“I said after the game and I repeat again, any criticism of team selection must be thrown at me and me alone,” Klopp added. “It is not acceptable to show disrespect to the players who are picked. These are my decisions, I believe they are the best for the team when I make them, and I stand with them afterwards win, lose, or draw.
“Our form—since we left Wembley Stadium after the Tottenham game—has been really positive. We show we are a squad packed with talented and committed players. I am 100 per cent sure they will all get their chance in this coming run of games and they must all be ready.”