As Jurgen Klopp left Anfield on Wednesday evening his emotions will have been mixed. While defeat to Chelsea and an exit from the Carabao Cup were disappointing, the evening was not a wasted one. The German will have seen plenty of positives from his side. The biggest? His Liverpool team is now one with real strength in depth.
With a tilt at the Premier League and Champions League taking priority this season, the League Cup was unlikely to take precedent for Klopp and his men. The FA Cup will be treated in a similar way. Winning them would be a bonus but they are not important.
His team selection for the clash with Chelsea demonstrated as much. Klopp had insisted beforehand he would not rotate but it was a temptation he did not resist. Eight changes saw him change his entire back five, take out two of his first choice forwards and rotate in central midfield.
In the past, this would have presented a problem. When Klopp wished to rotate in previous seasons he was forced to turn to the youngsters or players who were not up to the required level. Most of the latter were those left behind by the previous regime and have now been moved on to pastures new.
It meant that when Liverpool were putting out a rotated team in cup competitions that side always looked particularly weak. It was evident that the Reds did not have the strength in depth that the rest of the top four boasts. Indeed, outside of the cups, when injuries hit Liverpool hard is seasons past, particularly after Christmas the squad was often left lacking. It resulted in plenty of dropped points and frustration around Anfield.
After a summer of strong recruitment, however, that is no longer the case. Liverpool may have spent their summer strengthening the first team but the effect that has had on the squad has been dramatic. This is the strongest squad of players any Reds manager has had for many years. Where last year Klopp was left with little options, he now has players such as Xherdan Shaqiri, Dejan Lovren, Joel Matip, Nathaniel Clyne and Daniel Sturridge to call upon.
Shaqiri is a particularly interesting case. Some raised eyebrows at his move from Stoke but there were no such reactions around Anfield. Klopp and his team saw his £13 million price tag as a bargain they couldn’t afford to miss. It was a steal for a player with a plethora of Premier League and Champions League experience, never mind undoubted ability. His first two games in a Liverpool shirt have only helped to justify the move.
The Swiss international was the star against Southampton and impressed similarly against Chelsea. He does not bring the pace of Salah or Mane but offers a different option and can fill into the number ten role once occupied by Philippe Coutinho. He is also comfortable out on either wing if required.
Sturridge, meanwhile, is also interesting. He did not arrive this summer but looks a far cry from the player of the past. The 29-year-old is as fit as he has ever been and showing as much. He does not offer what Roberto Firmino does but he is a striker most Premier League sides would be glad to have. He has already proven in the past fortnight that he is capable of providing a superb backup option to the Brazilian.
Indeed, look at the team that started against Chelsea and it shows Liverpool’s newfound strength. Despite eight changes, the starting eleven was still a particularly strong one and one that would be capable of a mid-table or higher finish if they were a regular Premier League team.
Their strong performance against the Blues will have delighted Klopp. It was a demonstration that those beyond the starting XI are capable of stepping up. There are also those to come back, the likes of Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. For the first time in his Liverpool reign, he has options in every position. While defeat and elimination from the Carabao Cup will have disappointed the trophy-hungry German, the strength of the squad will have been a delight. It is that which gives them a real hope of maintaining a real challenge on all fronts this season.
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