What an opportunity missed. And what a frustrating night in Belgrade for Liverpool last night. Needing only four points from three games to make it through to the knockout stages was the target. Like so many Liverpool fans it was felt that the best opportunity to achieve three of the four required points was last night in Belgrade. Especially considering our last two games are against Paris St Germain (away) and at home against Napoli.
The 2-0 defeat was bad enough as it is, but worryingly, the performance was awful. The defeat, the performance and the team selection all came under scrutiny after the final whistle.
Frustrating Night In Belgrade
Let’s be clear, we all love Jurgen Klopp but there was much head shaking going on last night. Why was that? As mentioned above, last night may well have been a great opportunity to put one foot in the knockout stages. That being so, what was that team selection all about? Yes, clubs have to use their squads as best they can and as such use the depth in that squad. But, an element of ‘horses for courses’ needs to kick in now and then. To my mind last night was one of those occasions.
Questionable Team Selection
No disrespect to some of the players brought in but to select three players with so few minutes on the pitch this season to start last night was a big gamble. And it was a gamble that clearly didn’t work. It’s not so much the individual performances of these players but unsettling the whole balance of our best starting eleven was a bizarre risk to take.
The players in case you haven’t guessed are Sturridge, Lallana and Matip. Neither of them played badly, but neither of them covered themselves in glory either. Two of them (Sturridge ans Lallana) were substituted. Sturridge in fact at half time.
Use Of Substitutes
One criticism levelled at Jurgen Klopp at times is his use of substitutes. Take last Saturday against Arsenal for instance. Once the game entered injury time, all of us watching in the pub were guessing the minute and seconds Klopp would bring Matip on. Sure enough, in the last minute of injury time, Matip made his entrance. No damage done on this occasion but it has backfired in the past. On the flipside, all substitute selections can backfire but at times it is a bit mystifying making such a late change that always disrupts the balance of the team.
Back To Frustrating Night In Belgrade
Anyway, back to the frustrating night in Belgrade. One of the changes of course disrupted the tried and trusted best back four combination we have. The centre-back pairing of Joe Gomez and Virgil Van Dijk has been brilliant this season. There are many who argue that you should always try to keep a settled back four. To counter that though if the changes work then ‘job’s a good ‘un’ – if they don’t however, then criticism is always a likelihood.
Add to the mix the importance of the game – i.e. a Champions League game and such changes are even more puzzling.
In addition to the questionable team changes we also have the issue with the non selection of Xherdan Shaqiri in the match day squad for political reasons. No need to discuss these reasons in here because they are well documented elsewhere.
A question though, if we had a political issue with Napoli or PSG, two games that are anticipated to be tougher, would Shaqiri be removed from the squad for those games? Maybe not. Maybe so. Did the player himself decide he didn’t want to play? Were both the manager and the player in agreement?
If however, the supposed lesser quality of the opposition was a factor then it backfired. And to a certain extent so did the initial team selection. In a way it may be construed as complacency.
I’m all in favour of using the squad at your disposal. But I also believe there are certain games (like a Champions League away game that will virtually guarantee your progression) you must pick your strongest XI. Maybe, if players are in need of a rest, Sunday’s home game with Fulham was the game to rotate.
Such a frustrating night in Belgrade with so many disappointing performances. Only time will tell if the decisions made last night prove to be costly in terms of failing to progress to the knockout stages. We all certainly hope not.