Rotation, rotation, rotation: Klopp policy paying dividends

Matt Stead

Ivan Gazidis was right about one thing in his otherwise questionable e-mail sent to Arsenal employees last Friday: ‘Everything is coloured by results.’

The chief executive was discussing the negative perception of the club’s transfer business, pointing out that the general opinion would be far more favourable had the Gunners not lost their most recent match in such emphatic fashion to a Premier League title rival.

Everything is coloured by results, and the only shade left on Arsenal’s palette is an underwhelming grey, hardly brightened by a summer of mismanagement, mixed messages and internal strife.

But had it been Liverpool on the end of that Merseyside mauling, it could be a similar story at Anfield. The nature of that wonderful, swashbuckling victory over Arsenal just over a week ago masked a similarly fearless decision by their manager in the build-up.

“He didn’t want to rest, it’s not a problem,” said Jurgen Klopp of Simon Mignolet ahead of the Arsenal game. “He didn’t give me a hug and say ‘that’s exactly what I thought we should do’, but I wanted to do it anyway.”

It was a risk, a decision roundly criticised before the game, but one which, in the glare of hindsight, illustrated a courage in his convictions and confidence in his methods. A defeat, and the manager would have been condemned for making such a needless, mindless call. But everything is coloured by results, and a win with a clean sheet gave Liverpool’s season a particularly positive hue heading into the international break.

Starting Loris Karius in the club’s biggest game of this nascent season was not born of spontaneity. It was a calculated choice made by a man who values the importance of a competitive squad as much as he cherishes a perfectly executed counter-press.

“If we stay together like this there will be a few hard decisions because they can’t start all together,” said Klopp before the start of the season, and the German has remained true to his word. Seventeen Liverpool players have started at least one game in the Premier League so far this season, more than any other club.

In just three league games, Klopp has handed minutes to 20 different players – just three fewer than in all of last campaign. And that is with Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Nathaniel Clyne yet to feature. Watford (21) are the only club to field more.

Consider too that the Reds could afford to omit Danny Ings and Lazar Markovic from their Champions League squad and allow Divock Origi to leave on loan, and Klopp finally has something approaching the strength in depth he so craves – the sort that neither Chelsea nor Tottenham, last season’s champions and runners-up, can boast.

Klopp is no fool; he does not expect his players to greet squad rotation with delight. “Be angry at me, no problem,” he said back in August, “but stay confident, then in three days there is another game so be there again. There are a lot of challenges.”

With four trophies to compete for, said challenges will soon come thick and fast. Crucially, Klopp has manoeuvred them so far while maintaining positive results. Just as dropping Mignolet for Karius would have been impossible to justify had Arsenal won two Sundays ago, the manager would have been interrogated if Liverpool failed to beat Crystal Palace after making five changes to the starting line-up last month.

The squad is far from perfect, and certain pieces of the jigsaw are yet to fall into place. Joel Matip, Dejan Lovren, Ragnar Klavan and Joe Gomez does not a strong list of central defensive options make, but Klopp finally has a selection of players he can trust to perform when called upon.

It felt as though removing one card from the pyramid would cause the whole deck to fall last season. When Coutinho, Lallana and Sadio Mane were sidelined at various times, Liverpool’s form deteriorated, and Klopp’s testing methods were doubted through a difficult festive period. Liverpool made only 54 changes to their starting line-up in the Premier League; only Chelsea and West Brom made fewer.

The manager identified that weakness of a shallow squad in the summer and addressed it by increasing his pool of options. Klopp’s rotation policy might cause a few of his players to be “angry” throughout the season, but it is already paying dividends.


Matt Stead