As Liverpool hurtled towards a possible quadruple last season, there was only one reason why Jürgen Klopp’s team were in the position that they were: they finally had a squad capable of fighting on all fronts.
Claims of the Liverpool boss ‘disrespecting’ the domestic cups were gone, purely because the Reds were progressing despite making wholesale changes to their starting XI rather than having a change of approach.
But Klopp knew that in some ways, this was going to be a one-off. Come the summer, certain squad players were going to move on and he would have to find a way to compete for those trophies without them.
Liverpool have always had a relatively small squad under Klopp, mainly because of the amount of work that the team needed when he arrived. The first XI was the first priority in terms of transfers, and then bulking the back-up positions came later.
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But Klopp has always insisted that he prefers a smaller squad and that having the numbers he had last season is not sustainable in the long-term, even with meticulous planning.
“The solution cannot be to have a much bigger squad for the specific moment and then realize you can not use all the players,” Klopp said in July 2020, with concerns over Liverpool’s squad depth a topic of conversation in pre-season most years since the German arrived at the club.
“These players can only play the football they play because they know they are needed. They are all human beings and nobody can be held back for a year and then on the last day of the year be told, ‘Now we need you.’
“Between now and then there must be a lot of training and support and challenges stuff like this. We can not keep someone in the backyard and bring them up in the decisive moment. That will not help. We will have solutions for that; we have young players.
“The size of the squad is not that important to me, the quality of the squad is very much so.”
That stance, partly by design and partly by, for example, Luis Díaz becoming available in January, was altered in the previous season, with Liverpool rewarded by nearly completing the quadruple.
The two trophies they ended the season with – the Carabao Cup and FA Cup – would not have been possible had their squad not been so large. Young players got them so far in those tournaments, but it was Takumi Minamino, Divock Origi and others who scored the decisive goals to get them to progress.
Minamino, who scored 10 goals in all competitions but only made one Premier League start and four Champions League appearances (all in the group phase in minimally meaningful games), has been talking about the situation he found himself in.
“Many of the games I played weren’t of interest to anyone,” Minamino told Sanspo. “Even if I left the results, there was not much response. I was trying to inspire myself to prove my worth. I was doing personal training other than team training.
“I was thinking that I would leave something behind when I went to the match mentally. I felt motivated by regret and anger every day. I’ve never had this much time as a player. It was difficult to maintain the condition and connect with my feelings.
“But it was a season that seemed to have grown. It was disappointing but fulfilling. At the same time, it makes sense to play an important game and leave a result, so it is said that I got out and got a result, but I do not think it was a big deal.
“I want to do my best to be a player who can produce results in important games.”
Those comments are perfectly understandable. The Japan international, for his part, was always professional. Whenever he came in, he played well and often scored. In training, he kept his focus and gave his all.
That, in some ways, will only add to the frustration that he did not get more minutes on the field in more significant moments – but the reality is that he is nowhere near the level of player that Diogo Jota, Mohamed Salah and others are. There was simply too much competition ahead of him, and so his position in the squad was effectively as a ‘luxury domestic cup starter’ – at least until the semi-final stage, where others would take over.
Next season, there is a need to balance squad depth and squad harmony. Minamino, valued at £ 17m and with AS Monaco leading the chase but with several others interested too, is expected to leave, while Origi has already departed on a free transfer. Neither of those players will be available to play in the domestic cups and so others will have to instead – be that senior stars or young talents like Kaide Gordon.
When Klopp spoke of having ‘Ferraris in the garage’ earlier this year, he did so knowing that it would probably not last. At some point, those Ferraris want to be driven – or to find a new owner that values them as they should.