Eyebrows were raised when Liverpool’s starting line-up for their match against Leicester City was announced.
Nowhere to be seen was Naby Keita, with Jordan Henderson starting in midfield instead.
Keita was taken off with 20 minutes to go in the 1-0 win over Brighton and Jurgen Klopp understands the importance of squad rotation this season.
Liverpool will compete in four competitions this season and will need to rotate players in order to keep them fresh.
But it was still a surprise to see Keita named on the bench this early in the season.
“I thought it made sense for the game today,” Klopp said as he explained the decision to bring Henderson in.
“We have to [be], if you want, rock solid, in all departments because Leicester is a good football-playing side, so we need to defend very well, to be really compact and all different things so it helps when the boys are used to this.”
FANS DEBATE KEITA V HENDERSON
Indeed, Henderson’s experience can’t be called into question.
Liverpool supporters were watching his performance closely and the overriding theme on Twitter was that Keita simply offers more.
#bbcfootball Henderson automatically passes the ball back to where it came from 70% of the time. We saw Keita receiving the same balls and turning & going forward in the first few games. Definitely missing that today #LEILIV
— Merry Deerhound (@Timmo44) September 1, 2018
Feeling like Henderson coming in to replace Keita has shown us some limitations there – his coming so short (often between the two highest Leicester players) and receiving the ball seems to be limited how effective we are through the middle. Gini's movement is better as a 6 imo
— Scott Geelan (@Scott_Geelan) September 1, 2018
While Henderson prefers to come short and play a pass, Keita is much more comfortable dribbling forward with the ball from midfield.
And against teams that are going to defend deep, that is extremely beneficial.
Henderson off Keita on please, someone needs to pass the ball forwards box to box. Currently inviting pressure onto a slow midfield 3
— Sam Fraser (@SamRobertFraser) September 1, 2018
Henderson really doesn't try to find space to make himself open for a pass like Keita does. He is very stationary
— Dominic Campbell (@dom_campbell) September 1, 2018
Henderson has been and will continue to be an important player for Liverpool. His leadership skills can’t be understated.
But fans feel that his limitations were shown up against Leicester.
This is the problem now with no Keita is that no one is intelligent enough on the ball or always in space in the middle sprinting back to cover. Henderson just jogs and tells everyone to pass it back to keeper.
— Terry Bray (@TLBray92) September 1, 2018
Klopp decided to replace Henderson with Keita in the 71st minute.
It will be interesting to see whether the German continues to rotate the pair in the coming weeks.
It was thought following his arrival from RB Leipzig that Keita would be a regular starter – but Klopp has let everyone know that that won’t be the case.