THIS might be the worst time of the football season.
You’re just about getting into the swing of things and *BAM*, it all comes to a shuddering halt as the first of three international breaks in three months begins.
The only positive about this one for Liverpool fans, aside from Gini Wijnaldum becoming a goalscoring machine, is that The Reds can spend the entire fortnight looking at the Premier League table that they currently sit atop.
However, when the domestic action returns at Anfield in the early kick off against Newcastle United on Saturday, it begins a run of games that sees the league leaders play twice a week. Surely enough to satiate even the hungriest of football fans.
The next international break begins in just under four weeks, but before then Liverpool have seven games to navigate.
After the visit of Newcastle, Jürgen Klopp and his men hit the road/sky as they embark on a run of four back-to-back away games between September 17-28.
Fixtures at Napoli, Chelsea, MK Dons and Sheffield United are then followed by home ties with Salzburg and Leicester before a break for two weeks so Harry Kane can score penalties against the Isle of Man or Vatican City reserves.
There is a lot of intense football to be played in a short period of time, with not an inch allowed to be given even at this stage, certainly in the Premier League.
As I wrote on these pages just two weeks ago, while the season was beginning and a fast start was required, Klopp stuck with broadly the same team. Now that the fixtures are about to come thick and fast, it could be time for that to start changing.
The German said as much himself at the end of August: “We need them all, we need them all 100 per cent. It is the very first part of the season, the first four Premier League games, and we had a busier schedule than other teams, but still not that busy during the week.
“That will all come afterwards, but there is no reason for resting players in the moment. It is about finding rhythm, finding the mood again, that we do the right things in the right moment. It is not the moment for a lot of changes.
“After this international break, that will change completely of course… Usually in this time [international break] they will go all around the world, but after that we need them all, and they know that.”
Given the possibility that Liverpool will be playing up to 14 games more than they did last season, sensible measures will need to be taken across the campaign in terms of managing workloads. That has already been in evidence since the season began, with the manager hooking each of the front three in games when his team has been at least two goals up.
There is also the fact that the so-called fringe players will need minutes soon so they don’t have to start from scratch later on, if they are required to step in for multiple games in a short period to cover injury or suspension.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has already been managed back from his long-term absence, very sensibly, by being brought on for cameos in games, and he even had a start at Southampton that will have helped his return to regular football immensely. It was a game in which he showed the value of getting minutes into the legs as he improved greatly as time went on.
Klopp has always preferred to rotate his midfield in a “horses for courses” way, and so over the next few weeks we could see a more even spread between Oxlade-Chamberlain, Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum and James Milner, while Naby Keita and even Adam Lallana could be included in that list should they prove their fitness.
Divock Origi started the first game of the season, and could see more action again during these fixtures, particularly in the Champions League, which almost feels like his competition now.
Perhaps the most interesting development to keep an eye on over the next month is the use of Xherdan Shaqiri. The Swiss dynamo – with his calves that resemble two monster truck tyres wrapped in ham – only saw his first minutes of the season in the closing stages of the 3-0 win at Burnley last week.
There have already been concerns raised by fans about his lack of involvement, not only this season, but in the second half of last season as well.
After a disappointing performance in the 0-0 draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford in February, Shaqiri only made a further four appearances before the end of the campaign, three of which were from the bench, and his one start came in the 4-0 win against Barcelona, which was largely forced by the absence that night of Roberto Firmino and Mo Salah.
However, if it was simply a case of Klopp not rating or trusting him, then he surely would have been moved on in the summer. The boss doesn’t generally keep players around if he has no use for them. He’s determined to win the Premier League and even more Champions League titles. He can’t be affording passengers.
Perhaps the more pertinent thing to glean from Shaqiri’s appearances last season is that, before the first international break, he only played twice, both times from the bench. From there, he played a part in 23 of the next 29 games.
Klopp used him plenty during the busiest part of the season, and with the former Bayern Munich attacker snubbing international duty this time round to focus on his training at Melwood, it would be no surprise to see him get sufficient minutes from here as well.
Klopp, like most managers, is often hesitant to rotate his centre backs too much, but he won’t be afraid to do so in order to manage legs given the strength in depth he boasts in that area. Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren are more than able to step in when Joel Matip, or perhaps even Virgil van Dijk on occasion, need a breather.
Then you have Rhian Brewster. The teenage striker has been promised minutes this season, but the question is at what time of the campaign does Klopp see him stepping in? Firmino is in terrific form, while Origi is presumably the first to come in should the Brazilian sit one out.
Salah and Sadio Mane may not need any rest at this juncture given their lack of international commitments in this and the next international break, and so Brewster may have to remain patient for now, but his time will come. Perhaps in one particular fixture during this run of games.
The obvious moment where significant rotation is likely occur is the Carabao Cup clash with MK Dons. You would think most lineups that Klopp could put out should be able to emerge victorious, but don’t forget (ever) the League One side did beat Manchester United 4-0 in the same competition back in 2014.
It may be one for the likes of Gomez, Lovren, Keita, Lallana, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Shaqiri, Origi and Brewster to all start though, and not just to get some minutes under their belts, but to make a statement and push their case for more time in higher profile games.
We may not see extensive changes in the other immediate fixtures coming up before the next international break, particularly given the tricky looking nature of Napoli, Chelsea and Leicester, but lineups could at least become a bit less predictable than they have been to this point.
So, same again v Newcastle, Jürgen?
*Edit – Forget everything you’ve just read. I’ve now listened to this week’s free TAW podcast and the guys make a lot more sense than I just did.*
*Still, that Kane joke was a belter, wasn’t it?*
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“If you can’t rest players at home against Newcastle, then when can you?”
Who would you start on Saturday?
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) September 9, 2019