According to a now viral post on the Liverpool sub-reddit, the last time before our 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid that Liverpool started with a midfield of Fabinho, Gini Wijnaldum and Naby Keita was the 7-2 defeat to Aston Villa.
On that bizarre night, our midfield was appalling – allowing Villa to simply loft long-balls over the top of our high defence at will. It happened on countless occasions – until Jurgen Klopp couldn’t stand it any more – so he hooked Naby Keita early.
In fairness, not much changed upon the introduction of James Milner…
But against Real Madrid on Tuesday, the same thing happened. Toni Kroos and Luke Modric were given the freedom of the pitch to spray long balls over the top – and it’s a wonder we didn’t concede more given how tough a time Trent Alexander-Arnold was given by Vinicius Jr and the fact Nat Phillips and Ozan Kabak both lack pace.
Fabinho, Gini and Keita and superb players, individually and usually collectively. In fact, we can remember a time when it was this trio Liverpool fans demanded more than any other, over the inclusion of Jordan Henderson.
So why didn’t/doesn’t it work? Gini and Keita can both press their hearts out, but in both dreadful performances, they didn’t. They can both pass a football, but in both games, they consistently found opponents with simple balls.
It’s a small sample size, but our hypothesis is that this midfield lacks communicators and leaders. Fabinho leads by example but he’s not a talker. We’ve never seen Keita bark an instruction at anyone – and Wijnaldum is simply an odd choice for captain – given the fact he’s leaving on a free in two months’ time and doesn’t strike us a natural on-field leader.
One of either Thiago or Milner, probably the former, simply must start in the second-leg. Hendo is a massive, massive miss.