Maintaining a sense of balance and seniority in the team – that’s the key argument for why Jurgen Klopp included a few regular starters for Liverpool on Wednesday.
The Reds were already through and guaranteed first place in the group even before kick-off against Midtjylland, leading some to suggest that all the key players should remain back on Merseyside.
There was surprise, then, when the likes of Andy Robertson and Gini Wijnaldum – the duo with the highest minutes in the squad this term before last night’s match – were named on the bench and both Fabinho and Mohamed Salah started the game.
Asked about why more senior options featured than might have been the case, Klopp pointed to the difference between the first 45 minutes and after the break, when Fabinho had been subbed off: without leadership and rhythm in “key positions”, the Reds or any other team would struggle to have the same influence on the game.
Klopp wanted one of those big personalities in each area of the pitch, with Salah getting the nod to do so up top.
“You saw it in the second half, you can make changes but you need a few key positions and of course it could have been one of the other three up-front as well,” the boss explained.
“In the last line, obviously that was the reason why Fabinho played 45 minutes, that we have that there as well. In midfield, it probably usually would have been Naby but he didn’t play that often so he couldn’t fulfil that role maybe.
“He just needs to get minutes now again.”
As for Salah remaining on the pitch, Klopp says that was part of the game management process, seeing how the match evolved and being in dialogue with the record-setting goalscorer throughout.
Add in the knocks and injuries to the likes of Divock Origi and Kostas Tsimikas which forced a couple of changes, plus Keita needing to gradually up his workload and the planned change for Fabinho, and there was limited scope to take off everyone anyway.
“That was the decision for Mo. Then how the game developed, how the players looked, Mo looked fine, that’s why we didn’t take him off and for other players, even when they don’t play that much then it’s just really difficult to get through a full 90 minutes after a pretty long time without having 90 minutes.
“Mo, I was in contact with him, he had no issues and that was the reason why we left him on the pitch and why he started.”
Salah appeared to have no ill-effects at full-time from a game which wasn’t the most intense anyway, and Liverpool also have four days until the next fixture, away to Fulham.
The decision to play Mo won’t have been taken lightly – he’s now second behind Robertson for minutes played in 2020/21 after Gini remained on the bench – but Klopp and his backroom staff will be well aware of how much he could take on the night and still be able to contribute afterwards.
Expect Salah to play another big role at the weekend, where he’ll hopefully hit the goal trail once more.