In a strange season, Jurgen Klopp has made a number of strange decisions, and overlooking seven Liverpool players in particular suggests he is seeking an overhaul.
There’s a certain irony to the fact many dismissed Liverpool as the asterisk champions in 2019/20.
Granted, a global pandemic and a halt to the footballing calendar do somewhat skew a view of a season.
Yet the runaway leaders had already amassed a points total to clinch the title before an altogether strange resumption. Indeed, two-thirds of the campaign had been played out in circumstances considered ‘normal’.
That’s in stark contrast to what’s followed in 2020/21.
And while our supporters aren’t petty enough to belittle Man City’s impending coronation, perhaps we should assign ourselves an asterisk for a tumultuous year. It’s simply been ‘one of those’.
The variables of course are well documented.
Injuries, VAR and a lack of fans have clearly played a part in the downfall of the outgoing champions. While legitimate excuses, they can often deflect from a drop in standards generally.
Simply put, too many individuals have suffered poor seasons. One of those is the manager.
Jurgen Klopp is rightly untouchable at this football club. He has delivered success that was beyond our wildest dreams back in 2015 and is forever immortalised as the man who ended the wait.
Even so, he shouldn’t be above criticism.
From the very outset of this season the German has looked distracted. Warring with fellow managers, sparring with TV interviewers and questioning fan protests is out of character. And that’s before you get onto pure tactics…
Long lauded for decisive substitutions, there have been several occasions in recent weeks where his changes have actually weakened the side.
While there have been tactical shifts of late, it could be argued he’s remained wedded to his 4-3-3 formation for too long. That seeming lack of flexibility has extended to team selection.
Indeed, one of the most revealing aspects of Liverpool’s sorry season has been Klopp’s apparent lack of trust in certain players. Not even at our lowest ebb were many of those called upon, which surely calls their futures into question.
Of those to endure prolonged exiles are…
Last start: Burnley (H) – January 21
It’s too simplistic to dismiss this as yet another injury-ravaged campaign for Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Admittedly, he was sidelined between August and December but has now been fit for four whole months. In that time, he’s started just two games.
In years gone by Klopp would have turned to Ox to inject some dynamism into a pedestrian midfield. No longer. In the home reversals to Everton and Fulham, he was an unused substitute.
A brief cameo against Wolves implied a corner had been turned, only for him to remain fixed to the bench for the next three fixtures.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s last start actually came on January 21. Liverpool have lost eight games since then and he hasn’t threatened the starting XI at all.
Thiago‘s withdrawal against Newcastle, meanwhile, told its own story. Oxlade-Chamberlain, again handed a watching brief, saw Curtis Jones entrusted to seal the points in his stead. This was the youngster’s first involvement for a fortnight due to his own knock.
In a midfield marathon, Chamberlain is bringing up the rear.
Last start: Real Madrid (A) – April 6
Like Oxlade-Chamberlain, Keita’s own injury woes are well documented. In the face of mounting criticism, however, Klopp has generally remained steadfastly loyal to his midfield playmaker. That was until Real.
The bold and ill-judged decision to start him in the biggest game of the season backfired spectacularly. It also appears to have altered Klopp’s thinking.
The Guinea international hasn’t featured since, not even from the bench.
While the Madrid performance left a lot to be desired, a lack of match sharpness could at least explain aspects of his play.
The problem is, tactically it resembled his showing in the 7-2 trouncing at the hands of Aston Villa back in September – another game in which he was hooked, albeit later.
In a period in which the manager feels he has little to no control over freak occurrences, maybe Keita’s tactical ill-discipline has rendered him too risky a selection.
Last start: Midtjylland (A) – December 9
If it wasn’t for a fellow defender, the signing of Tsimikas would rank as the strangest of modern times.
The Greek arrived with a decent enough pedigree, having clinched the domestic title and progressed to the latter stages of the Europa League with Olympiakos.
COVID-19 disrupted his pre-season while thigh and knee injuries also kept him out of action for the better part of three months. But that presumes action would have been forthcoming.
Let’s face it, that’s highly unlikely.
That’s because the full-back has made just six appearances all season, and just one in the league.
The result has been an over-reliance on Andy Robertson who, after a promising start to the campaign, now appears to be running on empty.
Who can blame him? The Scotland captain has sat out just 35 minutes of Premier League football all season.
The Athletic recently hinted Tsimikas, though well-liked, has failed to adapt to Liverpool’s style. When bedding-in periods take this long, they seldom amount to anything.
Last start: Fulham (H) – March 7
Shaqiri divides opinion but there is little denying he can, at his best, impact games.
This is ordinarily from the bench, though his sheer unpredictability earned him a handful of starts in the New Year. Now, that experiment seems to have been well and truly abandoned.
Like Keita, the Power Cube has been known to vacate positions, but when you’re crying out for creativity that is sometimes a price worth paying.
Slide-rule passes led to decisive goals against Midtjylland and West Ham earlier in the season, while his cross-field ball to Mo Salah against the latter was one of the assists of the campaign back in January.
In spite of all that he’s started just once since February 3.
Few expect the Swiss to remain at Anfield beyond the summer, but the maverick in him may have unlocked doors so often closed to Liverpool these past nine months.
Last start: Brighton (H) – February 3
Famously the man for the big occasion, it’s sad to think Origi’s Liverpool career is petering out.
Out of action with a muscle injury since early March, he has rarely been trusted to lead the line, even in a season where Liverpool’s forwards have frittered away chances like certain politicians do money for interior decorating.
While few supporters would be clamouring for his inclusion at the best of times, his lack of game time begs the question as to why he’s still at the club.
A legend he may be, but Origi is, for all intents and purposes, making up the numbers.
Last start: N/A
With each passing matchday squad in which Davies is excluded you cannot help but suspect he was signed to turn a quick profit.
While that may make sound business sense, treating human beings as commodities doesn’t sit right. We’re not Chelsea.
Having secured the Preston defender for a meagre £500,000, Liverpool’s owners may have envisaged a summer upsell. Simply having us on his CV enhances his value to potential suitors.
There are other explanations, of course.
The first is the manager is playing politics, refusing to select a player he had no interest in signing or at least ranked some way down his wish list. This happens…as Robbie Keane will attest.
The second is he’s simply not very good. With no disrespect, he was signed from a mid-table Championship side. Perhaps that’s his level.
Either way there appears more chance of Elvis launching a comeback than him making a single appearance for the Reds.
Last start: Aston Villa (A) – January 8
The final player who may or may not have sparked Liverpool into life is Minamino. Not only was he excluded from the starting lineup but farmed out on loan in circumstances that still beggar belief.
The runup to that transfer remains one of the most bizarre periods of the entire campaign.
While the Japan international had taken longer than hoped to adapt to the physicality of the Premier League, he had started and scored away at Crystal Palace. Little did we know that was to be the pinnacle of our season.
That game was played on December 19. Between then and his transfer to Southampton on January 31 he played just six minutes more – at home to Burnley. We’ll discount the runaround against Villa’s kids…
Minamino may or may not be cut out for the English top flight, but he would certainly have presented an attacking option at a time when goals were hard to come by.
It would be fascinating to know Klopp’s true feelings on these forgotten men.
While none of us would expect any of them to spreadhead a title challenge, they could have contributed in our darkest moments and helped us emerge from a prolonged funk.
The manager may very well point to the root of all evils this season – injuries. With so many key players absent, he may have been hesitant to allow others to get up to speed when the makeup of the side was already so disjointed.
Familiarity and consistency were probably prioritised.
With each returning player, however, that becomes harder to believe.
Indeed, the likelihood is he’s given up on some, if not all, of the above misfits. And that calls into question our squad depth.
His lack of faith in others has led to the likes of Mane, Robertson, Alexander-Arnold, Firmino and Gini Wijnaldum in particular being over-played – with their output suffering as a result.
The question is what that means heading into next season.
Acquiring players who could realistically compete for a starting berth will require big money, something Liverpool are without. Offloading all of the deadwood is fanciful, particularly in this market.
The reality is whoever is left behind has an uphill battle on their hands to force their way back into the reckoning.
Klopp’s apathy in this of all seasons suggests he’s committed to a squad overhaul.
That being the case, the next contribution these players make to Liverpool Football Club could be helping to fund that.
Whatever happens all signs point to a summer rebuild of some description. That could be just the thing to reinvigorate team and manager alike.