By Paul Grech
SUCCESS is often a matter of seeing opportunities where others fail to.
Most clubs with top four ambitions deem the League Cup to be a burden. They approach games half heartedly and aren’t too bothered if they get knocked out. Only if they make it to the semi-finals do they start giving it some serious thought.
Not so Liverpool. Conscious that the demands on their players were not that onerous in a season without European football, from the start it was seen as an ideal opportunity to test out some new players, to get to Wembley and perhaps even win a trophy. And so it proved to be.
The bulk of each team that Kenny Dalglish selected was always made up of experienced players. Something that reduced the risk of a surprise elimination but which also meant that any young players put in could learn from those around them rather than be faced by a sink or swim situation.
Eventually this attitude was rewarded with the cup, ensuring that whatever happens from now on this won’t be a barren season.
And it is precisely what happens in the remaining weeks of the season that has to be the focus. The FA Cup is still a possibility but, other than that, it is simply a case of trying to climb as high up the league table as possible. Which, in all likelihood, probably doesn’t extend to higher than fifth.
This, and the resulting failure to make the Champions League,might seem to be a huge let down – and it is – but there is also opportunity there.
The limited objectives in the remaining games of the season, and Daniel Agger’s injury forced absence, make it the ideal time to test out what Sebastien Coates is made of. He might struggle – like Stefan Savic when he was played at Manchester City – but he will also learn what it means to play in the Premiership. That’s the sort of experience that could prove to be valuable next season should he be needed. Make the mistakes now, when they don’t matter that much, rather than in the future.
It is a logic that applies to other young fringe players. Jon Flanagan, Jack Robinson and Jonjo Shelvey need to play to improve and do so in competitive games. Same goes for the less experienced batch of Raheem Sterling, Andre Wisdom and Connor Coady. Be cautious with them but give them some experience. Anyone who saw Jon Flanagan play for the reserves last season could tell that he had a lot of potential. But that brief run in the first team – the experience of playing and training with better players – elevated him to another level. He is now visibly an improved player, one who reads the game better and with added maturity.
Yet the opportunities aren’t limited to those individuals who might get a chance: there is also the team setting. Has this team been built to try and exploit Andy Carroll’s strengths, as many suspect? In that case, get them to play that way for a number of games, not intermittently. It might not prove to be successful as originally thought or else it might suddenly click and come together. Either way, it would provide good lessons for next season.
These are all opportunities. But there’s no opportunity without risks bolted on to it. So it is here. Play inexperienced players and they could make mistakes. Change the way the team plays and you will solicit criticism.
Those are the opportunities. Those are the risks. Balance the two, do what others are perhaps reluctant to do, learn from those decisions and Liverpool will start next season in better shape then they’ve ended this one. Ignore them and Liverpool would be missing more than a Champions League qualifying spot.
Follow Paul on Twitter: @paul_grech