Christian Benteke scored the first league goal of the Jürgen Klopp era against Southampton at Anfield, and in doing so became the most recent substitute to bag a goal for Liverpool. How have the Reds fared from the bench since 2008, and likewise how did their new manager fare at Dortmund for bringing on goal scoring and assist providing substitutes?
I initially chose 2008/09 as a starting point as that was the first season when clubs in the Premier League could name seven players on their bench, but as it was Klopp’s first season at Dortmund, it makes for a handy comparison too.
To start, a look at Liverpool’s league record with subs in the last seven-and-a-bit years.
The thing that stands out here for me is how effective Rafa Benitez was with substitutes (and indeed the first article I ever wrote was about that exact subject). The Spaniard rarely missed a chance to use his full compliment of options, failing to use just fourteen across the two seasons here, and with sixteen goals and fourteen assists from the bench, he accounts for just shy of half of the goals and assists total in this seven year period.
Although he used very slightly more subs pro-rata than Kenny Dalglish, Brendan Rodgers’ would often frustrate me with his lack of substitutions, particularly in 2013/14 when the team was often comfortably ahead in matches and the likes of Suárez and Sturridge could potentially be withdrawn and protected from injury.
Players like Aspas and Moses may not have added much to the goals and assists tally had they been brought on more often, but playing demoralised and tired opponents may have helped them to settle in more and perform better. It should also be noted that Rodgers holds the four worst figures for ‘minutes per goal or assist’ in the above table, albeit his best is only one minute worse than Dalglish’s caretaker spell in 2011.
Let’s have a look at how Jürgen used his subs at Dortmund. I have included the Liverpool figures for the same seven seasons at the bottom of the table for comparative purposes.
Much like Rafa Benitez, Klopp rarely missed an opportunity to use a substitute; the new Liverpool manager left just twenty potential changes on the bench across seven whole seasons. The irony here is that he only used two subs in his first match in charge of the Reds, but these figures suggest we can expect to see all three subs used more often than not.
Klopp also got far more goals and assists out of his changes over the above period, though his truly remarkable record in his first year skews the overall figure somewhat. That said, even if we exclude it then his rate for a goal or assist from a sub would still stand at one every 195 minutes, and so would still be ahead of Liverpool.
So why have Liverpool struggled to get goals from subs in recent years? The following table will shed some light on the matter. The Reds have had just 24 players in their entire history who have scored at least four goals from the bench, and the below table contains the ones who have played in this period (though please note that figure listed here covers their whole Liverpool career, and not just since 2008 where appropriate).
That’s not too bad a sextet of attacking talent is it?! But the key thing to observe is that these are mostly players who would be in the starting XI when fit. There is no sign of Borini (who bagged just one goal from the bench), N’gog (3), Voronin (2) or Lambert (1) to name a few, and bear in mind those four have a whopping 119 substitute appearances between them. They won’t all have been long enough run-outs to make an impact necessarily, but my point is that Liverpool have never had enough top quality strikers to have some on the pitch and some on the bench. Balotelli may have bagged three from the bench in one season, but in Sturridge’s absence last year, Liverpool needed far more from him than that.
His Dortmund form suggests that Klopp will be keen to make full use of his subs bench, so lets hope the club can fill it with attacking talent sooner rather than later.