DID it happen to you at the weekend? The realisation that we didn’t actually have a game this week? The disbelief that we weren’t going somewhere mad, in some competition or another, on Wednesday or Thursday? A whole week. What will we do with ourselves?
Well, in the case of the players you would hope it would be get some rest, recover from a few knocks and work on some things on the training round. For fans? Well we can stay in and rest up for the punishing Christmas drinking schedule. Or, if you don’t fancy that, the Under-18s play Ipswich in the FA Youth Cup tomorrow (kick off 7pm at Langtree Park, St Helens, fiver for adults, three quid for kids). Depends how much you like your house.
I don’t subscribe to the notion that a big gap between games is always a positive. For a start momentum is always a good thing, and nothing gets momentum up like wins in quick succession. In 12 days after the last international break Liverpool won four games of football. Remember how it felt? Like we were going to win the lot.
Jürgen Klopp used 21 different players for those four wins. That’s 21 players the manager got to have a look at on the pitch; lads he knew more about; players who got to win for Liverpool.
For some on the edge of the squad, it’s not a great stretch to say their performances in that period could have been career defining for Liverpool. If Divock Origi notches 50 for Liverpool, people will talk about the hat-trick at Southampton as the time it all started. If Brad Smith makes the left-back role his own, people will talk about his cross for the sixth as a time when they thought we might have a player.
These extra games have helped these players along the way. Made us realise we have more options than we might have thought. Helped a few feel more involved, more like Liverpool players. But it’s still nice to get this week now. This week off that’s come out of nowhere, like a Bank Holiday you didn’t know about.
Klopp will be relishing it, I’m sure. And not just to give the players chance to practice throwing their hands up in the air (among all the fuss on that, not enough has been made out of the fact the players were completely rubbish at it).
How little time Klopp actually gets to work with his players can’t be understated. Between recovering days, travelling and not wanting to slog your players the day before a game, how much time is there to create real game situations? Especially for players who need longer to recover than others.
You’ve seen tactical switches the manager has been able to make, as well changes in attitude and aggression, but little yet in developing patterns of play. Hopefully this week is a chance for that. You’d like to see greater understandings between attacking players forming next time we take to the field for the serious stuff. Sharper movement and touches. A clearer idea what a Liverpool goal looks like.
He may also decide to have a look at set pieces, where so many of the goals we concede come from, and a problem that is hiding the fact that how we defend as a team in open play has actually improved under him. Whether this is personnel, organisation or a bit of both is up for debate. But I’m sure Klopp feels he can find a way to improve the situation.
The positive for Klopp is that our best team performance under his management so far came after an international break when he had many of his players to work with for a sustained period of time. A week of planning and work on the training pitch saw an immense attacking unit unleashed on to Manchester City. And what a night that was.
Unfortunately, this kind of all-action performance faded when others who had been away on international duty were introduced and opponents lined up in a different way.
This time they are all there, so you’d hope something more long lasting could emerge from the sessions. Whether Klopp can make something work with Christian Benteke and the players behind him is the most intriguing. How Roberto Firmino’s career moves ahead from something of a crossroads is another.
Maybe only one can move forward with us, and the other will suffer. But that week on the training ground in December might be key when we look back on what Jürgen’s Reds look like for the next few months.
Watford should be quaking in their boots.
Pics: Propaganda-Photo–David Rawcliffe