Jurgen Klopp's gamble fails to pay off in Liverpool's draw with Everton
Liverpool's 1-1 draw with Everton extended their unbeaten run to 10 matches, winning seven of them and being in the lead until late on in the other three.
They were ninth after their last defeat, to Tottenham in October, now they're fourth after also securing Champions League progress. If you thought all that would appease everybody, the reaction to the draw with Everton soon corrected such notions.
Rotation yet again became the No.1 bugbear. Fixture congestion, and how Jurgen Klopp dealt with it, was always going to be the primary discussion this season.
Klopp changed his team around yet again but this time what initially looked like dubious changes didn't work out in his favour. So many eyebrows were raised last week at Brighton by choosing two midfielders for central defence. A 5-1 win blew all concerns away.
Sunday was different. When resting key players, there's one rule; win the game, then everyone can quibble about selection to their heart's content. Don't win, and there'll be more than just quibbling.
Everton barely ventured out of their own half, were the beneficiaries of a dubious penalty and Liverpool created enough chances to win the game easily. The result was a fluke; that is the message emanating from Anfield. Whether everyone believes it is another matter.
Liverpool again proved a one-goal lead is never enough, and the question also arises about how they start each game. High tempo, fly at opponents, grab two or even three goals; is that maybe the time to consider resting key stars?
The Reds were 5-0 up after 50 minutes against Spartak Moscow in their previous game. They'd already used one sub -- James Milner replacing the injured Alberto Moreno -- but knowing Everton were next was it wise to leave other players out there all game?
Obviously, when people drool over your "Fab Four" in attack, three subs won't be enough anyway. The key to rotation is not to make so many alterations it changes the way you play too much.
That, however, is what happened on Sunday. Mohamed Salah again scored a fine goal but until that moment the Reds looked static and toothless.
It's clear how important Roberto Firmino is in that frontline and how there isn't another forward at the club quite like him. Attempts to use Daniel Sturridge in the role often fail, but the selection of inexperienced Dominic Solanke had many fans unnerved.
Jordan Henderson and James Milner are also not an ideal central midfield partnership especially against opponents who made it abundantly clear they weren't interested in opening up. Withdrawing Salah after an hour, with the score only 1-0, was also confusing.
Overall the blend of the team simply wasn't right. Klopp, mindful of the criticism coming his way, said: "If someone wants to go through this period with just 11 players and tell me afterwards what it's like go ahead."
That was disingenuous. Absolutely nobody wants that. The result certainly dictated the reaction, but some fans began arguing afterwards that a win would have nullified the debate -- thus proving in their own words the argument of others. The means have to be justified by the end, and on Sunday they weren't.
There also can't be any comeback to the argument that the derby is different. It's a game that matters more than most, wherever the teams may be in the league.
Fans saw these changes for the Everton match and were concerned beforehand. Had Klopp saved them for the match against West Brom on Wednesday and Liverpool didn't win, there would've been criticism then too but nothing like as much.
A poor Everton team were let off the hook, and that won't play well with supporters. Get back on track with another win on Wednesday and pragmatists may approve of Klopp's methods.
The postmatch reaction -- some say overreaction -- speaks of a club that's making big strides under Klopp. Any game that isn't won will be analysed and dissected because there's so little room for error at the top.
Manchester City look well on their way to the title. In fairness, nobody expected Liverpool to compete for it. Improvement would be indicated by another top four finish and a decent run in the Champions League -- both of which would demonstrate that Klopp's Liverpool can deal with a lot more fixtures every season and come to terms with rotating a squad.
It's established the club has been unwilling or unable to spend on players like other clubs around them. They therefore have to do things better, which builds pressure upon any manager that is unlike anywhere else.
Fans can ignore outsiders' criticism of their manager's behaviour or postmatch comments if they feel he's getting most things right. Anger with a result or refereeing decision is nothing to be ashamed of.
The draw with Everton must, however, become just an inconvenient stumble rather than an indicator of a bigger problem that remains unsolved. Only more wins can do that.
Steven Kelly is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @SteKelly198586.