For the first few weeks of the season, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp took the role of a martyr as he selflessly battled to protect the safety of his players as they were cruelly forced to deal with a hectic fixture schedule.
One particularly brutal stretch of games saw one Liverpool player after another pick up injuries in what seemed like every game. There was a time in which the Reds were facing the prospect of being without their goalkeeper, their entire back four, two starting midfielders and two reserve forwards. That’s obviously very bad.
That’s why most football fans were supportive as Klopp as he embarked on a crusade against broadcasters, complaining that their selfishness was putting his players at risk. His approach wasn’t always popular, but most were sympathetic to a man who has consistently questioned why English football is so hectic over the festive period.
This is a man desperate for chances to rest some of his beloved players, so when the news broke that Aston Villa were going to play a team of toddlers in Friday’s FA Cup third round game because of a COVID-19 outbreak in the senior squad, it was assumed that Klopp would jump at the chance. Even Liverpool‘s reserves should waltz their way through Villa’s youth side.
However, Klopp still felt the need to play regular starters like Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum, all of whom started the 1-0 loss to Southampton four days earlier.
This is a man who has previously described the hectic fixture schedule as ‘dangerous’ and ‘criminal’. Realistically, he’s not wrong. Nobody believes he’s wrong, and you only have to look at Liverpool’s injury history for the evidence if you need it.
However, how can Klopp expect people to take his complaints seriously when he doesn’t even take the opportunities to rest players when they arise?
It’s the inclusion of Salah and Mane which was most surprising. These are two players – two of football’s elite talents – who seldom get the chance to sit on the bench, but Klopp clearly believed it was worth risking their fitness to ensure Liverpool could steer their way past an Under-18 side.
Is it a sad reflection of Klopp’s faith (or lack thereof) in Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri? Did the boss genuinely believe that his reserve players weren’t good enough to score past a starting lineup of players with a combined two Wikipedia pages between them?
Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to slap up a weaker team. Liverpool want to be the best team on the planet, and showing sympathy isn’t in their nature.
But, come on, pick your battles.
It’s not even the first time that Klopp’s words have not been backed up by his actions. The German was incredibly vocal in his desire to see five substitutes return so he could hand his starters some much-needed rests. He didn’t get his wish, but he was granted an expansion of the bench to nine players.
In the past ten Premier League games, stretching back to the start of November, Klopp hasn’t always used the three subs available to him. He’s regularly stopped at two, and in the 2-1 win over Tottenham, he didn’t even use any.
He obviously doesn’t have to use all the subs – bringing on inferior players in a close game is, well, bad managing – but if he genuinely believes his players are risking their lives by conforming to this hectic schedule, why isn’t he doing more?
It’s admirable of Klopp to use his elevated status to fight the battle the players need, but he’s ignoring his own advice. If the schedule is such a problem, he needs to actually try and manage it.