Is Liverpool’s midfield threadbare?
Are the players out of form?
What actually are their roles now – and who should start in a strongest XI…?
There’s been many questions asked about Liverpool’s midfield this season, despite our excellent start in both the Premier and Champions League.
Jurgen Klopp consistently rotates his central three which adds to the intrigue regarding who should be picked most often. Bar perhaps Fabinho, all of the options for these roles have been fairly inconsistent, despite some excellent individual and collective performances.
Below, I’ve outlined my thoughts on their campaigns so far and what we can maybe expect going forward.
The captain has confused me a little, actually. He’s been quite wasteful when trying to make progressive passes, and his habitual first-time-cross-to-the-back-post hasn’t been paying off.
What you usually get from Hendo though is a solid base and an ability to shore up our central areas from opposing midfield runners. Again, in games against Manchester City and Atletico Madrid, he’s not been his usual effective self.
If anything, I’ve actually preferred him in the holding role – and he was incredible in this position against a horrible Watford side – but the no.6 is obviously and rightly Fabinho’s.
He’s still been a terrific leader and remember, he had a long summer in which he effectively played through injury, so this could be hindering him slightly. Still a part of our starting XI for me, every time.
Liverpool haven’t lost a game in 90 minutes with Jordan Henderson as the ‘6’ since Manchester City in January 2019.
The only other loss was Atletico after extra time in 2020 but in the league, you’d have to go back to that game at the Etihad. pic.twitter.com/Dw4jY6Ajq4
— The Anfield Talk (@TheAnfieldTalk) October 17, 2021
Perhaps the only player who guarantees a level of performance in this area of the pitch. For me, the best anchorman on the planet and one of the best signings of the Klopp-era.
What we missed last season with Fabinho at centre-back was his proactive anticipation to snuff out opposition attacks before they’d even started.
It was no surprise that when Klopp brought him back into midfield, we started winning games – and hopefully he’ll only ever be used centrally ever again!
One of the first names on our team-sheet and the best footballer in our midfield right now.
Fabinho vs Atletico Madrid
• 35/37 (95%) passes (2nd during time on pitch)
• 44 touches (2nd in 2nd half)
• 1/1 aerial duel
• 3/3 tackles (2nd in whole game)
• 4/5 ground duels
• Not dribbled past
Added composure to the midfield. Truly outstanding at DM 👌 pic.twitter.com/86BjhY2lvx
— LFC Stats (@LFCData) October 19, 2021
The player I perhaps enjoy watching most of any Red, bar Mo Salah. Thiago has purred on occasion since joining Liverpool, but it’s been sadly fleeting.
We knew we signed a star who is available for roughly 70% of the season, and it’s so far proving the case.
Last term, we were at our best when Thiago and Fabinho were paired in midfield. It took the defensive shackles off the Spaniard and he could instead dominate proceedings with his passing and intricate carrying of the ball through the lines.
I’m worried by his fitness though; and the way he’s still not in team training has shades of last season’s seemingly never-ending absence, too.
For me, Thiago starts in our best possible side with Fabinho and Henderson, but this trio has started just ONE game together since Thiago’s arrival, so maybe Klopp disagrees – or more likely – the injury situation simply hasn’t allowed it.
I honestly think Thiago being back will make our midfield look 20x better overnight btw. Let's not forget, this is Klopp's 3rd choice midfield. Preference was Fab-Thiago-Hendo or Fab-Thiago-Harv. That's because both Thiago/Harv are capable of defending and freeing Hendo to roam.
— Jay ☭ (@ScouseCommie) October 20, 2021
Keita can offer moments of attacking brilliance but is sometimes frail defensively – who’d have thought…?
Naby is dividing opinion heavily. Many think he’s a liability, backed up by Klopp’s two half-time substitutions of him v Real Madrid last season and Atletico this. Others, a largely online contingent, reckon the anti-Keita stuff is xenophobic and that big articles in the Athletic and the Mail calling him out should be focussed on Henderson and James Milner instead…
So what’s the truth? While Henderson hasn’t been great this season, he also has a lot more credit in the bank – and Keita’s still not entirely managed to rid himself of the fitness problems that have plagued his Anfield tenure.
I like him. I love his technical ability, jinking runs and through-balls – and I still get excited when his name is on the team-sheet – although more in hope than expectation.
I’d love to see a trio of Fabinho, Thiago and Keita at some point. Fab and Thiago are better positionally but will also have the nous and creativity to link up with Naby and perhaps free him of some defensive responsibility.
I do also think though that he’s pretty good at the Gini Wijnaldum role against limited opposition – simply helping us dominate possession and provide a calmness and balance while allowing the forwards to wreak havoc.
Have I got this right?
20/21: "Why does Klopp select Wijnaldum, he offers nothing going forward & just passes sideways? Need someone more attacking"
21/22: "Keita scores some brilliant goals but he's hopeless defensively, can't believe Klopp still picks him after all this time"
— Carl Markham (@carlmarkham) October 20, 2021
I prefer Milner as an understudy to Trent Alexander-Arnold, really, although with the injuries, he’s always a nice option to have.
His lack of pace is an issue and he’s not very good at the intricate stuff in small spaces. That being said, on a European night at Anfield, I know for a fact he’d do a sterling job of harassing opponents and geeing the crowd until we’re 3-0 up inside half an hour.
It’ll be a sad day when his contract expires next summer and our dressing room and squad will be a worse place without him.
— James Milner (@JamesMilner) October 19, 2021
A player of clearly mesmerising ability and potential, but someone who right now is about our most inconsistent midfielder. This of course can be forgiven a player of just 20-years-old who’s competing against seasoned internationals for minutes.
Creatively, he’s a phenomenon. Four assists v FC Porto in the Champions League and a long-range stunner in the Brentford draw show his credentials, while his role in the first-half of the Manchester City game at Anfield displays areas he can improve: positionally and decision-making.
I love his hunger and his self-confidence, though. He knows he’s good enough for this level and can’t wait to show it. He’s clearly ahead of both Ox and Naby Keita – £90m worth of transfers – in Klopp’s pecking order, which shows how well he’s done already.
He also works like crazy, as shown in the stat below:
No player in the Premier League has covered more distance per 90 minutes than Curtis Jones this season, with the midfielder averaging 11.35km per 90 from 182 minutes of game time. pic.twitter.com/qPvyGOhq2x
— Anfield Edition (@AnfieldEdition) October 14, 2021
A brilliant guy and someone his team-mates adore. But the reality is Ox rarely impresses in his favoured central midfield position. He adds drive, pace and a thrust the others in this list simply don’t, but he makes too many poor decisions and gives the ball away a frustrating amount of times.
It’s almost like he’s trying too hard to make an impression with the limited minutes Klopp gives him, which leads to a rushed, poor performance and then ever fewer opportunities. I feel for him, as there’s a brilliant player in there somewhere – but he’s clearly someone who thrives on confidence and he hasn’t had it for a while.
I still like Ox as a squad option and it’s handy Klopp can pick him in various roles, but he’s not a starter for us and rightly so. He enjoyed a handy midweek cameo in the CL though, and it would be nice to see him kick on from it.
Struggling to recall the last time Oxlade-Chamberlain made such an sizeable impact. He really upped #LFC’s tempo, added the missing creative link and excellently tracked back to make a crucial interception.
Hopefully he can kick on, it really is a make or break season for him.
— Keifer MacDonald (@KeiferMacd) October 19, 2021
It’s crazy that Elliott was starting games at the beginning of this season ahead of Thiago, Keita and others on this list. That’s how insanely highly Klopp rates him.
His injury was the most unfortunate event of our season so far, but it’s great to see his rehab is going well and all reports suggest he’ll be an option again this term.
In short, we’ll be fine without him, but I love the potential addition of a fit-again Elliott to a title-charge. His dribbling, vision and panache is something else – and I’ve no worries that the lad is a superstar in waiting.
My current pecking order, when everyone is fit: Fabinho, Thiago, Henderson, Jones, Elliott, Keita, Milner, Ox