What does a manager do without a pre-season schedule to prepare his players? Jürgen Klopp took charge of a squad in early October that experienced a summer of preparation and nearly two months of competitive football under a different manager. The former Borussia Dortmund manager has sent teams out in Premier League, domestic cup, and Europa League action so far without defeat.
There are lots of interesting questions, though, in the months ahead on how Klopp will approach rotation. It was a surprise for some to see such a strong team selected for a Europa League game, but Liverpool hadn't won a European game all season after three draws in three games. History was made in Russia on Thursday, and furthermore, a winning momentum was maintained.
Since his arrival at Anfield, Klopp has been clear with his ideas and beliefs about football. Liverpool fans, neutrals, and rivals have seen them transferred to his players quickly and efficiently in such a short space of time. Perhaps the increased workload compared to German football gives Klopp more matches to implement his methods, something that he might see as an advantage in his situation. He provided an unequivocal assessment, however, of how big European ties should be handled.
"If you play Champions League, you are playing Wednesday and Saturday," Klopp said with his usual charm. "Nobody says ‘okay, come on, go to Real Madrid with 17 year old guys!’ – that is not fair for them. They get experience but not the experience they should get. Where is the difference (with Thursday and Sunday)? Is the only benefit that you like the other tournament more?
"We have to play. We cannot rest. That is our situation. This has been really good. Four weeks, it’s a short time we’ve been working together. Six games? That is not a big number and we have a common experience. We can work with this. The best training at the moment is our matches. It is very intensive. It is good for physical condition and it is good to talk about after games. It’s much easier when we win."
The part about Real Madrid may raise eyebrows considering Brendan Rodgers' approach to the two games against the Spanish giants last season. Although it must be noted that Liverpool didn't fare too badly in both games despite losing home and away along with failing to score. Liverpool won't be putting out considerably weaker sides for European games anymore judging by Klopp's words and actions. Only four changes were made for Thursday's game, and even then, Christian Benteke is hardly a reserve striker.
On getting to know each other, Liverpool's players always seemed to be a well-knit bunch during Rodgers' tenure. What's necessary at this stage is understanding a manager with quite a demanding and specific way of playing. One could think that this international break will be an important one for Liverpool, as Klopp will get training time with players who don't have commitments elsewhere, but the next international break will take place in March. This month or six games have been a pre-season of sorts before a run of four interrupted months of club football.
The absence of a winter break to give the
starting and only fullbacks players rest will be a challenge for Klopp's methods in English football. Additionally, the Bundesliga has 18 teams compared to the English Premier League's 20 so Liverpool play four more league games in the season than Borussia Dortmund, and there's an extra domestic cup to consider too. However, the Swabian didn't blame the Europa League for the heavier schedule in England.
"If you think we have too many matches then stop playing at Christmas," the 48-year-old remarked bluntly. "This tournament, for no team in the world, is a problem. Only because there is no break is there a problem maybe. We will see this. What would you have said if we had gone to Kazan with a youth team? For the moment, everything is okay.
"There are many games but the Europa League is not a problem for English teams. No. No winter break might be the problem. It is not a problem for me because I knew about it before (I came to Liverpool). But the Europa League is a great tournament and I like it."
It's good to see a manager give European football the respect it deserves and understand its importance for Liverpool. The Europa League may not have the glamour and top-level prestige of the Champions League, but since the tournament was branded as "the Europa League", Atlético Madrid (twice), FC Porto, Chelsea, and Sevilla (twice) have won it. Trying to join them is a worthwhile endeavour. Rafa Benítez understood the importance of Europe to good effect at Valencia, Liverpool, and Chelsea.
European fixtures without a winter break may hamper Liverpool's chances in domestic competitions, but the onus is on the management team and players to find a way of progressing as far as possible in Europe while remaining competitive on home soil. It's a difficult balance to strike, and playing fatigue isn't some finely woven myth. Maybe the solution will lie in the attitude the players will adopt from Klopp. He went on to say that his two fullbacks "have to run" and "need games" so maybe the philosophy is to just keep going!
Rotation, improving the depth and quality within the squad, and becoming accustomed pushing for everything on offer will help in time. The addition of a winter break doesn't look close to happening over the next couple of seasons and beyond so Liverpool and Klopp will need to find another way. It's refreshing to see that dismissing the Europa League isn't part of it, and hopefully, Champions League football will occupy the minds of those connected to a club with great European tradition.
Crystal Palace will provide an early test of the dreaded Thursday-Sunday schedule, and it is hoped that Alan Pardew's players leave Anfield with no points to show for their efforts.