As we approach the British festive period Liverpool is flying, even though a couple of recent 1-0 League wins might only qualify as low altitude traversing. The Reds are humming along as they often have during the Klopp reign at this point of the season.

Klopp’s worst month as a Liverpool Manager each year is consistently January. There is a malaise that typically surrounds the way the club plays that resembles an overcast British winter day waiting for Aslan to drive out the White Witch and usher in the spring.

Compounding the inevitable kvetching from supporters over poor performance on the field, Liverpool are typically inactive in the mid-season transfer window which leads to wild speculation amongst the fan base about imminent arrivals, doom and gloom predictions about the post Klopp era, all paired up with blaming Fenway Sports Group for not providing enough funds for the Manager to do his job in the first place.

Poor Results = More Recruitment, Right?

So, I want to look at two things here (and not the cyclonic behavior of online fans): 1) why does Klopp’s Liverpool go into a poor patch almost every January & 2) what’s up with not bringing in significant players in the January window?

The answer to the first is speculative since it seems to have nothing to do with opponents, nor does it have anything to with the AFCON which hasn’t been played in January since 2017. Indeed, Klopp’s decision to increase his African contingent was based on the short-lived policy of playing the AFCON in the summer.

But the numbers are clear! 18 wins, 10 draws, 14 losses over 6 seasons with a winning record in only two of the six January’s in question. In fact, when you take out 2020 (6w-1d-0l), the team actually drops to a losing record over the other five years (12w-9d-14l).

The current squad is very fit and plays a high-energy game. It is, therefore just aforethought that the side cannot maintain its fitness levels for an entire season. While opting to take advantage of the FA Cup dates, when rotation occurs anyway, to effectively put players through a second training camp.

Ultimately this produces recharged players but the cycle of downtime and fresh fitness work places the emphasis on the stamina to go full speed from February to May. Meanwhile, player readiness suffers for a few weeks, recovering in time for the European competitions to resume.

Squad Rotation = Squad Depth

The key difference in 2020 may have been squad rotation! In 56 competitive games, only Virgil Van Dyke was asked to start 50 while 6 more players started 41-46 games for the season. Another 22 players started multiple games meaning the side rotated well during key moments of congestion.

A similar pattern is emerging this season after 24 games. Salah has 21 starts, 5 more players have 16-20 and another 16 have at least 3. The hope is that with sufficient rotation Liverpool can overcome January when they will also be without 3 top players as they depart for the AFCON.

The key difference in 2020 may have been squad rotation! In 56 competitive games, only Virgil Van Dyke was asked to start 50 while 6 more players started 41-46 games for the season. Another 22 players started multiple games meaning the side rotated well during key moments of congestion.

A similar pattern is emerging this season after 24 games. Salah has 21 starts, 5 more players have 16-20 and another 16 have at least 3. The hope is that with sufficient rotation Liverpool can overcome January when they will also be without 3 top players as they depart for the AFCON.

So as Keita, Mane, and Salah fly away for the month the question is thus raised about sufficient depth and the need to bring in reinforcements in the transfer window. Losing both of your most prominent wide strikers is definitely a blow not easy to adjust to.

The Reds still have a number of striking options for this period. Firmino, Jota, Minamino & Origi will spearhead the frontline in the new year supported as needed by Oxlade-Chamberlain and possibly Neco Williams (who has 2 cameos upfront already), Harvey Elliott (pending fitness), and Kaide Gordon (1 winning League Cup start)

The midfielders are more or less at full strength and even if Ox is committed upfront, and Elliott is not fitness ready, there is still a senior squad of five not counting the emerging Tyler Morton. By the time Keita returns he’ll probably find himself competing for minutes.

Buy Just to Buy…

For those who think we should delve into the window anyway, you have to answer two important questions. Firstly who can you find that is better than the players we will have available, and what do you do with them afterward. Players with no role at a club tend to become a problem that costs you points. Unless there is a solid player that you see becoming a regular even if you waited till the summer, then it makes no sense to waste transfer money to bring them in.

One of the latest examples was Adama Traore! Our fan base loves to talk up what a player can do right after we play them, whereas, in reality, Traore is a quality mid-table Premier League player who doesn’t have a prayer of unseating Mane or Salah.

In the last eight January windows, Liverpool has spent a total of $113m of which 82% went on Virgil Van Dyke. So it would be wise to keep expectations down since it seems unlikely that Erling Haaland is suddenly going to become available. More likely the club will look for a couple of strategic buys in the summer with Denis Zakaria of Borussia Monchengladbach a significant possibility. So buckle up, supporting Klopp’s Liverpool in January is like flying commercial and hitting turbulence. But this time around there is plenty of room for optimism!

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