SUNDAY’S bench wasn’t really what you want to see, is it? I’ll be honest, when Alberto Moreno is your oldest and most experienced player, you don’t look at it and get particularly excited. I found it a bit concerning, to be honest.
We’re attempting to consolidate a position in the top four and we’re in a position where our bench consists of a left-back we don’t really want, three youngsters, a raw centre-back with about four games in his natural position for Liverpool, and a Serbian prospect who has been injured pretty much all season.
I’m all for giving good kids an opportunity, but this wasn’t through choice, it was through necessity. They were there because there was literally no-one else.
The reaction to it is something that I feel is a little peculiar, though. Yes, we shouldn’t have to do this, but I really don’t see how we prevent it from happening without exercising a great deal of hindsight. As a club we have what we can call 17 senior outfield players. I’d list them but I’m sure you don’t need that — and if you do, go on Wikipedia. They’re all of a level where there isn’t really an issue in using any of them which I’m pretty sure everyone would definitely agree on, although Moreno divides opinion at best.
Of that 17, Liverpool went into Sunday missing six of them. Adam Lallana, Sadio Mane and Jordan Henderson are without any shadow of a doubt in Liverpool’s strongest 11, while Ragnar Klavan, Danny Ings and Daniel Sturridge would all be on the bench when everyone was available. From this set of 17 we need 10 to play at the same time. Is 17 enough?
Well, both yes and no. If we go into next season with the same 17, possibly any 17 in fact, I would fully expect us to go out of the Champions League in the group stage and be nowhere near top four. I don’t think many would disagree.
Four of the players listed we can’t account for although there’s an argument that Henderson’s injury concerns mean we might have to from this point forward, but this goes back to my point about hindsight. How can you plan for losing three of your starting 11 and three of your bench at the same time? There’s a limit to how many players you can realistically have.
OK, Sturridge could have been accounted for but Klavan? No, sorry. Nor Danny Ings, who I think people forget about. Yes, he was injured last season and he may not have gone on to recover to the required level, but no-one could foresee him getting injured again and, as effectively a fourth choice striker, finding someone to do what he was here for isn’t exactly easy.
January would have been a good time to look into doing something about this but the January window has become a time where desperate teams do desperate things. You can hardly look across Europe and see a multitude of attackers who have moved clubs that you’d want to see wearing a red shirt.
Even throwing money at something doesn’t mean it’s going to happen either, transfer fees don’t fuel teams to the same extent – for us to buy a player of the level we’d want you’re giving a team money that they aren’t desperate for to weaken their side: why would they do that? They wouldn’t which is why teams of our level just tend to ignore the January window unless a Julian Draxler appears.
Maybe it was an area we should have looked at in the summer, but again this is hindsight. People weren’t in uproar about the state of our strike force in August from what I can remember.
So as it was we were left with a core of 17 with the odd need for youngsters to fill in. Ings knocked that down to 16 when he suffered his injury which meant that with just one injury or suspension we were going to have to send for youth to pad the bench out, or to fill in the early stages of the cup.
When there are one or two players missing that’s fine; after all, it saw Ben Woodburn get on the pitch in November against Sunderland for his league debut – is this a bad position for us to be in? Giving young prospects like Woodburn the opportunity to play football and develop into players who we can use properly is one of the reasons for having an academy in the first place. Trent Alexander-Arnold has played the best part of half an hour of a Merseyside derby at the age of 18 and played 90 minutes away at Old Trafford.
Is it really for the benefit of Liverpool Football Club to keep a mediocre 28-year-old who will never be good enough to start for Liverpool knocking around, to occasionally sit on the bench and then rarely do anything more? Who benefits from this? It certainly isn’t Liverpool in that they’re paying a player who logically speaking isn’t good enough for us, and it certainly isn’t for Trent who misses out on minutes that aid his develop.
The key thing here is the lack of European Football. Somewhere in the region of 10 games more will be played next season so we will need a bigger squad and the argument for having that mediocre 28-year-old right-back ‘just in case’ actually becomes a little more sane. It won’t affect Trent’s playing time, it won’t eat into money because we’d have more money from the obvious benefit of being in Europe, but I feel that there’s better ways of doing it.
Liverpool should be working towards making that 17 a 20. But make it a 20 by bringing in five at the top end of it and maybe losing people like Sturridge and Ings. Strengthen at the top and improve the back end of it by effectively relegating your players, people like Gini Wijnaldum don’t become automatic selections for example because you’ve spent £35m on a top-level midfielder.
You then get the opportunity to give people a complete rest when the League Cup rolls around, play Hull at home on a Saturday and tell Philippe Coutinho he’s watching from the stands because we’ve got Barcelona away in three days’ time.
The lack of Europe makes this hard to do. Playing once a week means there’s not really any need to give Coutinho a weekend off, and having a weekend off is effectively what happened to six different players last weekend. All at the same time. I wouldn’t advocate giving six different players a weekend off at the same time if we had the squad for it, but injuries cause you problems you just can’t plan for.
I’d have loved to have seen a much stronger bench that could have influenced the game in a more positive manner on Sunday. That would have been ideal. But how is having in excess of 20 senior professionals without European football really viable? Chelsea and Spurs are currently the only two sides ahead of us so I’ve gone as close to like-for-like in their squads and taken six players similar to who we had missing on Sunday.
Counting players in the same way as I did ours, Chelsea have 16 senior players. I’ve taken Cesc Fabregas, Eden Hazard, John Terry, Pedro, Michy Batshayui and N’Golo Kante away and given them imaginary injuries. That leaves their bench as Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Kenedy, Nathaniel Chalobah, Ola Aina, Charly Musonda and Dominic Solanke. This may not be exactly who they’d pick, but they’re the only outfield players left as listed as being in their squad on Wikipedia. They didn’t plan for six players being out at the same time just like we didn’t. They’d look equally thin if it was a bridge that they had to cross, however.
Spurs have 17 senior players from what I can see and in my hypothetical scenario have lost Christian Eriksen, Harry Kane, Kevin Wimmer, Vincent Janssen, Moussa Sissoko and Mousa Dembele. This would leave them with Heung-Min Son as a lone forward, and they’d have to reach deep, deep into their under-23 squad to fill a bench. They’d manage to produce something like Kevin-Georges N’Koudou, Kieran Trippier, Ben Davies, Cameron Carter-Vickers, and then two kids who I’ve never heard of who have played nothing but a few minutes in the League Cup.
They’re absolutely sound for full-backs but there aren’t many players coming on to influence a game of football there, are there? In hindsight, if they had more players, maybe they wouldn’t have been knocked out of Europe twice? Imagine if we’d been knocked out of Europe twice due to a lack of players. It was bad enough losing a single game.
Yes, the bench looked poor but sometimes, unfortunately, these things will happen. I can’t even say hopefully we’ll work towards ensuring it won’t happen again, because how do you ensure that six of your 17 players aren’t injured at the same time?