Liverpool curb their flexibility by overlooking fringe players up front

Liverpool correspondent Glenn Price grades Jurgen Klopp and how his side have performed so far this season.

Dominic Solanke won his first England cap on Tuesday as he was brought on for 20 minutes against Brazil at Wembley. He made a few useful contributions and might even have scored had his control been a little better. But it was on the whole a bright, busy cameo for the 20-year-old.

Beforehand, much was made of whether a player with so few first-team minutes for Liverpool should be playing at international level. His age was also cited as a factor why he shouldn't have got onto the pitch. Though that was soon made irrelevant by Liverpool's other 20-year-old youngster at Wembley, Joe Gomez, being the obvious man of the match for his marking of Neymar.

Solanke's limited opportunities so far for the Reds are not down to youth but are probably a result of Jurgen Klopp's own preferences up front. Experienced strikers like Daniel Sturridge and Danny Ings also have problems while Divock Origi was sent out on loan.

Anfield's out-and-out strikers haven't had too many chances to shine this season, emphasising the style and formation which the manager clearly prefers. When everyone is fit — which isn't often, admittedly — you know who the front three will be: Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah.



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They were the standout performers in the Reds' last match, an emphatic 4-1 victory over West Ham. Despite goals flying in, Firmino's main contribution was creativity and work-rate.

When he carved out an easy chance to score himself he dragged his shot just wide. It wasn't an isolated incident this season yet Klopp clearly — correctly — feels the Brazilian's overall contribution outweighs any weakness he may have as a predator in the box.

The feeling of most fans when he went clean through that day was that he would probably miss. Contrast that with the assuredness of Sturridge when put clean through against Huddersfield the Saturday before.

It was significant however that Sturridge only got that chance through an error by an opponent after a first half in which Liverpool's creativity was almost non-existent. Whatever people think of Firmino's shooting, the team play far better whenever he is in that central role.

Tactical flexibility is a must for any club that wants to go on to greater things. It often feels as though Klopp doesn't want Plan B, he just needs Plan A to work better, much like his predecessor Brendan Rodgers did. Liverpool do have enough players to be flexible, yet there's not much evidence of it actually happening.

Is there a way for his natural strikers to force a way into his regular XI? It isn't with goals, that's for sure. Roughly this time last year Origi began a scoring streak in five straight games and it still wasn't enough to earn him consistent selection.

It feels like being a natural forward at Liverpool means being a substitute or the occasional selection when injuries dictate. The side often carve out so many chances that at first glance it must seem like a striker's dream to play for them, yet the creativity drops if any of the first-choice players have to be left out.

Forwards younger than Solanke are queuing up for their chance. Harry Wilson and Rhian Brewster need to wait their turn a while longer, but this can be a precarious position for any club to be in. If any of these players do have the potential to be a star other clubs will be taking note, even if it's just to pay them more for sitting on their bench.

Dominic Solanke's first cap for England despite limited opportunities at Liverpool speaks to Jurgen Klopp's preferences up front at Anfield.

Unless Liverpool get an easy draw in the FA Cup, there will be very few opportunities for fringe players to make any impact, as there often was in the EFL Cup during previous seasons.

It's interesting to gauge the reactions of Chelsea fans whenever they see how well former players like Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and even Sturridge have done for rival clubs. They have the luxury of knowing their club won two league titles in three seasons and whatever ex-players do elsewhere doesn't affect them too much.

Liverpool won't have that consolation or anything like it, which is why Klopp's job has become much tougher than the rest. It's an intricate balancing act that could easily go wrong.

Opportunities to play in the first team will be the most important factor in determining whether anyone stays or leaves. It will not matter if a lack of game-time sprang from their tender years or from tactical restriction.

While it's important Klopp always selects the team he feels stands the best chance of victory, other ways of playing would give him stronger options for different opponents and keep squad players content, knowing they'll always have some part to play in the club's success.

Upcoming fixture congestion might be a good time to show Liverpool aren't one-trick ponies, entirely dependent upon the same three forwards every game. Hopefully, Solanke will get some more club appearances before his next England cap.

Steven Kelly is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @SteKelly198586.


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