Jurgen Klopp was faced with a selection dilemma before his new-look Liverpool side faced Wolves in Saturday’s early kick-off, and any reporter who appeared ready to question the Reds boss on the matter was set to get both barrels.
In his pre-match press conference Klopp had vented at reporters who noted his disdain for playing early Premier League matches immediatedly off the back of an international break, in which his players have been featuring all around the world.
Klopp had a contingent of South American stars, including Alexis Mac Allister, Luis Diaz and Darwin Nunez, who were all engaged in midweek action on the other side of the globe. Their respective returns to the Liverpool camp had hardly afforded so much as one full training session before the Wolves fixture.
Liverpool faced the prospect of a mishaped starting XI as a result – which made it all the more strange when Klopp tossed Mac Allister straight back into the action in the high pressure No.6 position in defensive midfield.
The flexibility of the Argentina star means such a tactical tweak will always be possible for Klopp, though many fans and pundits alike were left asking the same question; what has happened to new signing Wataru Endo?
The Japan international is a specialist defensive midfield anchor and hones his craft in breaking up play and winning back the ball in deep areas. While he was also on national duty for his country during the break – which included a highly impressive victory over Germany – Endo was absent from the starting places at Molineux.
In his place, Mac Allister started and generally struggled with the pace set by Wolves. The former Brighton man did not look entirely comfortable, and picked up an early yellow card for pulling back Matheus Cunha before being subsituted at half time.
And yet, Endo was still nowhere to be seen. Klopp shuffled the pack with Liverpool trailing 1-0, and opted to bring on Luis Diaz, along with Nunez and youngster Harvey Elliott. The Japan veteran remained on the bench and played no part in the fixture.
And so, the burning question is – why? Klopp spoke so highly of the surprise signing when he was brought in from Stuttgart this summer. Club cameras captured the first conversation between player and coach, in which Klopp could be heard telling Endo: “We need you, we really need your skills. We have a great squad here.”
Endo has naturally felt the love since arriving from England, but game time has thus far been limited. To clarity the situation he is currently in, Endo only has to look as far as the man he replaced in the Reds midfield – Fabinho.
After signing from Monaco for big money in 2018, Fabinho was hardly seen by Liverpool fans for several weeks.
Klopp and his coaching staff opted to hand the Brazilian little glimmers of game time via substitute appearances, but such responsibility would stretch no further.
Instead, Fabinho was tasked with studying the Liverpool system and formation in forensic detail, learning his way into the side and acknowledging his exact role within the machine.
For Endo, this well-versed Klopp introduction style appears to be happening once again.
The Liverpool manager knows the Japan star, aged 30, has plenty of experience under his belt. Yet also little time to improve. The summer signing needs to get things right from the off, and so the slow-easing ‘Fabinho treatment’ is being deployed once more.
For any critics who may grow restless, the progress of the Brazilian is evidence enough to prove there is method to the madness. For a spell Fabinho became the most influential defensive midfielder in Premier League and world football, with heaps of silverware following as a result.
Today’s team is a vastly altered one for Klopp, but he is hoping very similar outcomes will soon follow.