Liverpool lead Premier League, are in the Carabao Cup semi-finals, Europa League last-16 and FA Cup fourth round; impressive season has been helped by Klopp’s in-game changes, which have led to Reds recording more goal involvements by subs than any of their rivals
League and through cup competitions />
Sky Sports football writer Peter Smith takes a closer look at how Jurgen Klopp’s use of substitutes and squad rotation has helped them rise to the summit of the Premier League
Mohamed Salah has the most goal involvements. Virgil van Dijk is back to his imperious best. Alisson is again in contention for the golden glove and Trent Alexander-Arnold is excelling in his hybrid role.
But perhaps the most impressive performances for Liverpool this season have come from their manager, Jurgen Klopp.
First, there is the bigger project. The Liverpool relaunch and how he has masterminded a rebuilding of the team’s midfield. The blending of new faces and emerging academy graduates with the trusted old guard. It is a transformation from the “disastrous” previous season – as he calls it – and testament to Klopp’s squad-building skills and the culture he has created at the club.
The future’s bright. We are into the next chapter of Klopp’s Liverpool reign and it already looks like it has the potential to bring similar levels of success as the previous ones.
But it is within the cut and thrust of matches where Klopp has so impressively led Liverpool into the title race and into contention for three further trophies. His in-game changes have set him apart from his rivals and, more often than not, maximised Liverpool’s return for their efforts.
The most emphatic stat to underline the point centres on the 30 goals and assists Liverpool’s substitutes have delivered across all competitions this season.
That’s 12 more than subs at any other Premier League team have recorded.
During the debate about whether football in England should permanently switch to allowing teams to use five subs rather than three, Klopp was an outspoken advocate for the increase.
He said that was largely because of the physical benefits that number of changes could have for his players, who are frequently called to work across many fronts. But he is also a master of tactical changes mid-match and he now has more tools at his disposal.
Across just the past couple of months, the list of key Klopp changes is a long one. Darwin Nunez and Cody Gakpo turned around the Carabao Cup semi-final first leg with Fulham. A pair of double substitutions at Arsenal altered the course of that FA Cup tie. There was a triple change to break the resistance of Newcastle before that, while Harvey Elliott, Wataru Endo and Luis Diaz all scored crucial goals off the bench just before Christmas.
Highlights of the Carabao Cup semi-final first leg between Liverpool and Fulham at Anfield.
The exception which proves the rule is that frustrating 0-0 draw at home to Manchester United, when Klopp accepts his tactical switch to 4-2-4 during the second half instead gave the opposition more options in possession. He soon reverted back to the original 4-3-3 but a failure to finish off their rivals left Anfield frustrated.
But Liverpool have won the most points from losing positions this season. They have dropped the second-fewest number of points when they’ve been ahead. Klopp usually finds a way to win.
Interestingly, these alterations are part of a bigger pattern of rotations. Liverpool have made the third most starting XI changes for Premier League games this season, with Klopp managing the workload of players going far in the Europa League and Carabao Cup and into the next round of the FA Cup.
But those selections are coming from a relatively small pool. Liverpool have used just 23 players in the league – the joint-fewest number of players used by any club. Five more have been involved in other competitions.
There is strength in depth in this group. That is most notable in attacking areas – Liverpool rank second for the number of different goalscorers this term. But like most sides, injuries have limited those options at different times and forced Klopp and his players to adapt.
Jurgen Klopp described Conor Bradley’s performance as ‘exceptional’ as the youngster produced an eye-catching performance in Liverpool’s 2-1 win against Fulham in the Carabao Cup semi-final first leg.
Throughout the season, Klopp’s willingness to trust in youth has helped Liverpool manage those situations. Eight players aged 20 or under have had game time, with the likes of Jarrell Quansah and Conor Bradley stepping up impressively.
Elliott may be into his sixth season but he still falls into that category too. After his heroics at Crystal Palace he said he was hoping to shake off the supersub tag and become an established player in the Liverpool first team.
But it is the supersubs which have been a huge part of the success for Liverpool and Klopp so far this season. Coupled with the experienced, established stars, it makes Klopp’s Liverpool 2.0 a major force going into the second half of this campaign…
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