AND we’re back. I’m back. Liverpool are back. This is a status that needs constant updating. From the low of losing grumpily at home to Crystal Palace to the unbridled ecstasy of our thrill ride of a victory over Watford. What a roller coaster ride the Reds take us on.
In a season that has been an epic voyage, this then the denouement. The pay off starts here. We want no more twists in the tale just a sedate, stress-free finale, a happy conclusion, and to be able to look forward to a summer of squad strengthening and re-awakened ambitions.
In a season that promised so much in its first half, that stalled in a winter just too cold, rebooted in the spring, its final act comes down to sheer test of will. Jürgen Klopp and his committee underestimated the depth of squad required to negotiate a Premier League season. He’ll all but freely admit that now. Hindsight knows that because of the scale of injury concerns that greater were resources were needed.
A further lesson I’d hoped has been learned is that in a league where the plan is to out-run and to out-want your opponents, that what you are able to bring from the substitutes bench is all. As the season has worn on, Liverpool’s starts in games have become slower and slower, perhaps as the need to manage legs over 90 minutes has become apparent.
If there are players in reserve who are the equals of the starting 11 then it is easier to ask the latter to begin games at full tilt.
Run till you drop, lads. The cavalry are arriving.
In this last phase of this campaign Klopp has had to largely live without captain Jordan Henderson, talismanic Adam Lallana, player of the season shoo-in Sadio Mane and first reserve Daniel Sturridge. He has additionally had to manage the training and pitch time of battle weary Brazilian stars Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino.
Even when the manager has been able to send out a side that resembles a Liverpool one, it has been with the insecurity of knowing that the subs bench was populated by teenagers. Prospects all but not really yet fit for purpose.
Going into 2017-18 there needs to be greater reflection upon the roadworthiness of many of the existing squad. There are many good players at Anfield who simply aren’t made to play full seasons. The centre-backs, Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren have bodies that are not permitting them to put 10 straight appearances together. Their back-ups, Ragnar Klavan and Joe Gomez are equally unable to provide full season availability guarantees.
In the forward positions, surely players with Sturridge and Danny Ings’ injury records can no longer be worked around. A decision may also need to made about Henderson. The club captain and best midfielder — when fit — has simply not played enough football for 24 months now.
I’m not advocating binning off all of these decent footballers, but when roll calling bodies in a squad these men cannot be counted as fulfilling whole unit slots. If you need three top centre-halves in a title challenging squad then it isn’t Matip and Lovren plus one. It’s them plus two. They are countable only as half bodies. Harsh? Realistic.
The injury prone are sometimes worth it. Coutinho misses chunks of seasons. He’s to be indulged but let’s ensure there’s a plan for the inevitable phases that he must miss.
Liverpool need to beat Southampton. It’s not essential — the win at Watford has provided wriggle room — but it would enable the important final two fixtures to be negotiated with confidence and assuredness rather than blind panic.
Klopp’s injury clouds seem to be parting. Lallana was back last Monday like he’d never been gone. Maybe it was the adrenaline that got him through, maybe he’s just this good and we’d forgotten just how good during his absence.
Sturridge too was lively from the bench. Not many are backing him to still be a Liverpool player come August, but he may yet have a role to play in taking Liverpool back into the Champions League. Personally, I love Daniel. I’m not blaming him for a body that has let him down far more than any fan. He wants to be the best striker in the world and he wants to be it at Liverpool. I may only count him as a half or a third of a squad place, but I’d keep him on board to win Liverpool FC a match in the last 10 mins on a rainy winter’s night in Leipzig. If he can accept rebuilding his career from the back of the stage then it may still have a glorious last act.
Let’s not dwell on Southampton. They’ve been a dour and frustrating opponent for us this season. They have their mandatory complement of decent players but they will arrive at Anfield on Sunday for a point. They want to get out of this season now with the minimum fuss and damage.
No bother, Saints. We’re here to help. We’ll take a 1-0 and goodnight, godbless.
So near and yet so far Red 11: Mignolet; Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Milner; Can, Wijnaldum, Lallana; Coutinho, Firmino, Origi
Kick-Off: 1.30pm live on Sky Sports 1
Last Match: Liverpool 0 Southampton 1
Referee: Bobby Madley
Odds: Liverpool 8-13, Draw 10-3, Southampton 51-10