It’s pretty hard to be negative about Liverpool right now. After three games they sit top of the Premier League and are yet to concede a goal. The squad built by Klopp and transfer guru Micheal Edwards looks pretty formidable.
However, here comes the but. It may seem like hairs being split, but there have been signs, at times, in their opening three matches, that their stellar forward line is looking a little leggy.
Firmino was doubled up with cramp at one point against Crystal Palace and has not looked his usual dynamic self in any of his three games this season. Salah has two goals already and still looks menacing, but like his Brazilian teammate, looks some way off top gear.
Liverpool have won all three games yes, but at Palace and at home to Brighton they were not at their free flowing best for significant periods of the game. Whether this is World Cup fatigue or playing against opposition sides content to play 7-2-1 formations, remains to be seen. However, Liverpool fans will hope that the squad can be utilized a lot more than it has been thus far, to keep their team at their ferocious best.
Out of gas
It could simply be a case of early season cobwebs, but Firmino, Salah and Mane, have at times looked a little off pace when they have been running the lines up front.
Liverpool fans will hope that it’s nothing too concerning, but it is food for thought with the season in its infancy. All three played too many games last season, as Liverpool progressed to the final of The Champions League. Throw a World Cup in to the equation and it works out as an almighty work load on tiring legs.
Firmino, for example has played 112 games for club and country since 2016. Salah has played 126 times in the same period. These figures are fairly typical of the modern footballer, but you also have to consider the intensity of Klopp’s high pressing game.
Liverpool’s forwards are expected to drop back, harry, chase and press with the rest of their colleagues. It’s a demanding game plan that would take the wind out of many a player’s sails. If Klopp’s forwards are a little out of gas, then the affable German must not play them into the ground and risk repeating past mistakes.
Liverpool fans know all too well about burning players out. Michael Owen’s recent stark and candid interview on BT Sports was extremely revealing about the extent of his injuries and career burnt out.
Before he was even twenty-three the former Liverpool and Real Madrid forward had played 234 games for club and country. Yes he was naturally injury prone, but the sheer number of games heaped on him at an early age is sure to have contributed to his dramatic fall from grace.
A similar thing happened with Fernando Torres a few years after Owen had moved on. Like his English counter part, the Spanish forward was played an awful lot by Atletico, Liverpool and Spain over a period of just a few years. Once injuries struck, as they will on tiring legs, he was always rushed back too soon and often running on empty, his once ferocious pace, a sad memory.
Klopp should be mindful as well that a similar thing happened with his mighty Dortmund team in his final season at the helm there. Fatigue and burn out were blamed for Dortmund propping up the league with more than half the Bundesliga fixtures already eaten up.
His team recovered to finish seventh in the league but it was, for sure a chastening experience for Klopp. Lee Price met up with some Dortmund Ultras in 2015 for Tribal Football, where they warned him about some of Klopp’s methods:
“…there’s a feeling his intense nature makes his stars burn brightly, but then burn out…longer term his all or nothing approach may run out of steam, as it did during his final season at Dortmund.”
Klopp will be mindful of this reoccurring this season with Liverpool. It is unlikely to be as dramatic as it was at Dortmund, but the current squad has more than it’s share of injury haunted players, they could do without more.
It’s often a dirty word in football, but rotation and rest are surely solutions at hand for Klopp. The preservation of that wonderful forward line is critical for Liverpool’s ambitions this season. The squad is as strong as it’s ever been in the Premier League era, so the supporters will be hoping to see more minutes from the likes of Shaqiri, Lallana, Sturridge and Solanke in the coming weeks.
They squad players at Klopp’s disposal can all contribute, even if it’s only off the bench with twenty minutes on the clock. They can offer much needed respite for tiring legs, or players still yet to click into full flow with the season still unfolding. Either way, they must be utilized to full effect this season.
The first team starters are too crucial to be burnt out, with so much at stake. Insurance against this is the best policy. It could well be early season fatigue and lack of match sharpness, with August not yet done. However it would be a frustrating outcome if Liverpool were to allow their talented trio to succumb to injuries and throw away what could be their best chance in years.