IT’S been a fuzzy week. I think it’s going to take a while to make sense of what happened to us all in Spain and around the Sevilla game.
I think I’ve experienced new things this week, although it has been through a fog of too much beer, wine, cheese and things fried in the kind of oils we can only dream of in Blighty. I’m travelling home as I write this and I’m hungry now for the chill of a November afternoon at Anfield, and a large dose of home-spun familiarity.
A week’s convalescence would come in handy but life comes at us too fast for such luxury. I suspect that the likes of Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Bobby Firmino haven’t indulged themselves quite as much as me in the past few days but I’ll bet their fraught and stretched sinews and limbs are screaming at them for some respite.
That Jürgen Klopp went with a virtually unchanged unit against Sevilla from the setup that beat Southampton wasn’t the greatest surprise, but the Liverpool manager will know that something will have to give very soon or he will have a renewed injury crisis on his hands. This time it will be of his own making.
Sevilla — this incarnation — are not a great side. A Liverpool front four of, say, Emre Can, Salah, Daniel Sturridge and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could conceivably have at least matched Tuesday night’s productivity. Liverpool didn’t have to be great in racing to a 3-0 half-time lead. They just needed to be better in protecting it.
Had Klopp rotated — and yes I am telling him how to do his job here — then he might be looking forward to Saturday afternoon’s Chelsea game knowing the likes of Mane, Firmino and Phil Coutinho were fresh, fit, rested and raring to go.
Now the manager must wonder if he dare send out his top front four once more and risk finishing them off ahead of very winnable fixtures against Stoke City, and Brighton and Hove Albion. Sure Klopp might eek out one more lung-busting performance from Firmino, or extricate another match-winning display from Salah but it’s getting harder by the match to ask for these things.
The way this is going, there’s no give ahead of the team selection for next Wednesday night’s game at Stoke. And I think that’s a miscalculation. Games like Stoke and Brighton away are not bankers for Liverpool FC but they are very winnable football matches. Chelsea, home, away or on the moon, cannot be taken for granted. It would be sensational to do the cockney Blues and leapfrog them in the table. What a Saturday night we’ll all have if that happens. But you and I know that we can play well against Chelsea and lose. They remain champions until proven otherwise.
I think if our essential front four hadn’t all completed most of Saturday’s match against Southampton then Liverpool beat Sevilla about 5-2 on Tuesday. Mane, Salah, Firmino and Coutinho don’t run out of legs and the Spanish are routinely picked off on the break, broken, beaten and no one is talking about a defensive collapse. But they did and we didn’t.
Liverpool invested in the summer for the eventuality we now face. A spell of two games a week until the turkey’s on the table was apparent when the fixture list became public in June. The Reds were criticised post the last transfer window for not addressing obvious defensive failings but it was clear that they had dealt with a lack of depth in the offensive ones.
Chamberlain and Dominic Solanke were solid additions. Salah was an incredible one. Where once we looked to just Coutinho, Mane and Firmino and prayed to god weekly for their safety, now we can supplement them with players of equal standing. It represents massive progress. Perversely almost, the Liverpool manager has taken these new resources not as backup but as ways of augmenting an already potent attacking team. The temptation, which he has fallen to, is entirely understandable, but there comes a point. We are now at that specific point.
Jürgen — take this as a cheeky letter from me to you, but from the heart — we have to rotate. I know you have all the sports science data and I don’t, but the evidence of our eyes was that Liverpool players were dead on their feet in the second half in Seville.
Me, I’d take Chelsea as a free hit. I think Stoke and Brighton are bigger games. Well, they’re more winnable games. Not glamorous wins if you get them, but three points from the crap teams is of the same value from the better ones. I’d take chances for Chelsea. I think we might beat them come what May.
Predicted 11: Mignolet; Gomez, Lovren, Klavan, Moreno; Henderson, Can, Milner; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sturridge, Mane.
Kick off: 5.30pm on BT Sport
Referee: Michael Oliver
Odds: Liverpool 6-5, Draw 13-5, Chelsea 13-5