The Pursuit of Excellence

Any Liverpool fan worth their salt is always keen to see which players Jürgen Klopp will be entrusting his vision to come match day. There were undoubtedly many of you that were surprised by not only the number of changes made for a Derby, but also those used and in such different positions to where they are normally stationed. You’d have been forgiven for thinking the match was a 3rd round Carabao Cup game rather than another scrap with those across Stanley Park. 

The return of Nathaniel Clyne to the right back berth he’d made his own over the past couple of seasons was perhaps long overdue, although the choice of Ragnar Klavan at left back may well have caused the scratching of a few heads. Gini Wijnaldum was also installed as the deepest lying of the midfield in preparation for arguably the biggest game of our season. We also saw the clubs alternative striking options in Dominic Solanke and Danny Ings, two players with very differing reasons to want to impress Klopp and fans alike. In the end honours were even although we had chances that were spurned and we relied on a superb save from a Yannick Bolaisie effort that could easily have beaten many other keepers in the league.

These changes had  been almost forced on the manager due to several key players succumbing to injuries and the not exactly insignificant matter of a Champions League quarter final second leg against Manchester City at the Etihad stadium on Tuesday evening. Despite the Reds having a healthy lead and a clean sheet there are many fans (myself included) who are still nervous going into this fixture, particularly as we are likely to see a definite change in both tactics and personnel used by Pep Guardiola as he looks to overturn this deficit.

Having reached this stage of such a prestigious and important competition, it is only logical to look at the other sides who are all vying to make it to the final in Kiev at the Olypiyskiy National Sport Complex on May 26th, and express an often either pragmatic or emotional reason for wanting to play a certain team in the next round or even the final itself.

There seems little argument (despite the often polar differences in opinion witnessed on social media regarding the playing abilities of any number of Liverpool’s squad) that our first 11 is a match for pretty much every side in the Premiership. The main problem is when this 11 are not available, then the obvious drop off in quality is undeniable. Jürgen Klopp has this unique quality where he is able to put a side out such as the one who played Everton on Saturday, and they are capable of getting the desired result.

The problem is that should Liverpool progress on Tuesday night, and get the number of points required to make qualifying for next season’s Champions League a formality, the spotlight will once again fall on the strength and depth of the squad that has achieved these feats. We’ve seen far more rotation used this season but even with that, and its obvious benefits to the physical and mental conditioning of the players, as we approach the business end of the season we are still woefully short not only in terms of players to choose from, but also what they themselves can bring to the team.

The other sides who look likely to make the semi-finals have far superior squads to ours, and have proven match winners in practically every position, coupled with vastly more experience at this level too. Despite calling ourselves European Royalty this is our first quarter final in some 10 years which for a club of our size is a blot we need to eradicate.

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If we are to become a genuine and continued force both domestically and in Europe, then it’s not just a matter of replacing or upgrading players, there also has to be a shift in mindset. Building a winning mentality has to be the aim. You only have to look at how Real Madrid not only won the Champions League in 2016 and then became the first side to retain their title since Milan in 1990. Real’s passage to this season’s latter stages comes while Zidane’s men watch Barcelona remain undefeated in la Liga with the championship all but secured, and also in a very healthy position following a 4-1 win over Roma a week ago. Despite this Zizou’s los Blancos have retained that desire and ability to be in a very strong position to once again make the final.

Make no mistake, if Liverpool overcome Manchester City tonight, the belief will grow just like it did on our way to the Ataturk in 2005. Sometimes your name is written on the trophy before the engraver gets their hands on it. Under Jürgen Klopp we are well on the way to becoming an extremely dangerous proposition as we maintain this upward trajectory under one of the most charismatic and talented coaches in football.