After any defeat in a cup competition, questions are always asked by fans regarding the manager’s choice of starting line up. Liverpool’s 3-2 loss at Oldham on Sunday, was no exception.
Did Brendan Rodgers rest too many of the big names? Should the side he sent out be good enough to defeat a struggling side from League One? Should all of the top players have been rested regardless, with tough games against Arsenal and Manchester City in the next week?
I think it’s an inevitability that debate will rage over which players should be rested in cup games from now until the end of time. The appearance statistics show that Rodgers has at least been managing the squad well.
Below is a table showing the percentage of possible minutes that Liverpool’s (in my opinion) key five outfield players have played in the cups (excluding the matches with Gomel as these were essentially pre-season, occurring as they did before the Premier League campaign started) and the league.
Obviously Lucas has been injured for a large chunk of this season, so he isn’t perhaps a great example here, but I view him as essential to the Reds when available, so wanted to include him. The figures for the other four make for compelling reading in any case:
(NB The number by the competition name is the total number of minutes Liverpool have played in that competition).
Some supporters will think that none of the above players should’ve played in any cup matches at all, but as manager of Liverpool FC Rodgers is under enormous pressure to win as many games as he possibly can, so it’s inevitable in my opinion that the best players will play occasionally. Sensibly, none of them have been overplayed so far.
If we assume that a big part of the issue with Europa League matches is the distanced travelled to away games, then Rodgers has handled this well too:
Daniel Agger – 1 away appearance – Hearts (though this barely counts, as London is as far away from Liverpool as Edinburgh is! This is therefore no worse travel-wise than an average league game).
Johnson – 1 away appearance – Udinese.
Gerrard – no away appearances.
Suárez – 1 away appearance – Udinese.
I realise it’s not just about the percentage of minutes played in the cups, as it’s also about freshness for the following league game, but I maintain that Rodgers couldn’t realistically have managed the squad *much* better and also kept Liverpool competitive in the cups.
Now look at how much league action Rodgers has got out of the big four players: 91%-or-more of the available minutes. They have been fit to play, and this was often not the case for three of them in the past.
Gerrard has never previously appeared in all 38 league games in one season (his best is 36 in 2006/07), yet he has played every minute of every match so far. Daniel Agger and Glen Johnson are both on course for 35 appearances, which would be eight and seven more than their previous best tallies respectively, and the Dane would’ve played more had he not been sent off at West Bromwich Albion on the opening day.
Similarly, if you exclude the match that Suárez was suspended for, then he has played 99.8% of the league campaign when available.
So whilst Rodgers’ man-management methods have been called into question following his comments after the Oldham defeat, in terms of getting the best players on to the pitch when it counts, I think the Liverpool boss has done a pretty great job of managing Liverpool’s small squad.