Gary Neville admits that he thought Jurgen Klopp’s decision to leave out Mo Salah against Newcastle “would be a risk” but that the Liverpool boss has now made his players “feel a million dollars”.
The Reds produced a good display to beat Eddie Howe’s side 1-0 on Saturday with Naby Keita scoring the only goal of the game as they put pressure on Premier League title rivals Manchester City.
Klopp chose to leave out Salah for their trip to St James’ Park, as well as another couple of regulars, and Liverpool should’ve probably won by a greater margin.
Neville doubted Klopp’s decision on Saturday, as well as Pep Guardiola’s choice to leave out Kevin de Bruyne in their 4-1 win at Leeds United, but admits that the two managers will have made their squad “feel a million dollars”.
Speaking on his Sky Sports podcast, Neville said: “It’s the first time Jurgen Klopp’s left Mo Salah out in what feels like an absolute age, but he must have felt that was a game that he could leave him out in. Why he thought that, we don’t know. But when I saw that, I thought, ‘Right, what message does that send to the rest of the Liverpool players?’.
“I just thought because he’s played Salah in every game, the game that he leaves Salah out in, I thought would be a risk because it tells the rest of the players something. I just thought there was a risk there when I saw the team news come through. I thought that’s a test for the other players because they know this guy is going to come straight back in against Villarreal. They know he’s number one. So can we get through without him?
“So those Liverpool players come off today getting through without him, and City have got through without De Bruyne, and I think that’s the two best players – I think Van Dijk competes with Salah in terms of importance – but those are the two star players. To come through those games without their two star players, the rest of the squad will feel a million dollars, and you’ve rested your two best players.”
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Neville added: “What Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola are doing today is, they’re basically empowering the squad. You hear managers say ‘I’ve got a great squad’, but have you got the guts and the courage to really use that squad in big matches where you need to win?
“Where you know if you don’t win there is a large consequence, or you’re probably going to lose a league title, or you’re going to get knocked out of a European Cup competition. So to do it and then come out of it and win – you’ve empowered everybody.
“You’ve made everybody feel part of it, and the strength in that squad and the commitment of everybody means that you start to blend into the feeling of every three days, you know everyone’s had a game, no one feels like there’s a first eleven.
“It’s a real mistake to name your first eleven, then always play that first eleven in modern football, if you’re going to go for three and four trophies because you’re going to need those five and six and seven on the bench. And so to keep them included to make them feel part of it, get them on the pitch if you can, even it’s for 10 or 15 minutes at the end.
“It’s really critical that you make everybody feel proud of being part of the squad because there is absolute certainty there is going to come a game that will catch you out, and you’re going to need two or three subs to come on and save you. That could be a defensive sub, it could be an attacking sub as well more often than not.
“We had it in the Champions League final, where we had two subs come off the bench and win it for us. Liverpool have that in them, Manchester City have that in them, but you need to keep those players in form, confident, fit, part of it, energised. Making them feel like they’re contributing to the success, and it’s not just a token gesture where you’re being played in the sort of weak games.”
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