Liverpool finished third in the Premier League last season, 17 points behind Man City, but may not have the midfielders capable of closing that gap in the upcoming campaign
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool are looking to regain the Premier League trophy this season, but they may struggle to do so because of one position in particular.
Up top, the Reds have one of the best attacks in the league. Defensively, they are a rock-solid unit that has strengthened over the summer by signing Ibrahim Konate. However, in midfield, they look average.
The squad had several players injured for their 3-0 victory over Norwich in the opening weekend of the season, but, even at full strength, the squad lacks in the middle of the park.
Jordan Henderson and Fabinho are two experienced, capable leaders that will tidy things up defensively. But where is the creativity in that pair? The third man of the midfield needs to be someone that can make the difference in the final third, that can get on the end of crosses and also feed the ball into the front men.
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Gini Wijnaldum was that man. Although his time at Liverpool ended sourly, fans will appreciate what he did for the squad.
The Dutchman would bomb forward and join attacks, get out wide to overload areas and work hard to get back too. But he left for PSG on a free transfer a few months ago and still hasn’t been replaced.
Away from Henderson and Fabinho, Klopp has a choice of Thiago Alcantara, James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Naby Keita, Curtis Jones and potentially Xherdan Shaqiri and Harvey Elliott, if they are dropped back into the no.10 role, to be that all-important third man.
Just from reeling off that selection of players, it is obvious that Liverpool’s midfield is ageing and lacking in star quality. Compared to Manchester City ’s midfield of Jack Grealish, Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan, Phil Foden, etc, the Reds can’t compete with that depth.
Of course, Klopp has said previously that he isn’t capable of competing financially with the likes of City and Chelsea, but that doesn’t mean they can’t add to their squad.
Against the Canaries, Klopp played a three-man midfield of Milner, Keita and Oxlade-Chamberlain, and the latter of the trio had majorly impressed in pre-season but underwhelmed at Carrow Road.
After the Reds’ final pre-season game against Osasuna, Klopp said: “Ox was on fire, obviously!” after a masterful display, but the former Arsenal man simply could not get going against Norwich.
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He didn’t make a single key pass in his 61 minutes on the pitch, didn’t attempt a single dribble, missed the target with his two shots and lost all four of his duels. He’s capable of far better displays.
But Oxlade-Chamberlain shouldn’t be singled out for that display, as the rest of the midfield cover is also lacking in several departments.
Fifty-four million pounds signing Keita is slowly slipping into the ‘flop’ category and is yet to meet anyone’s expectations at the club. He has played 54 times for the Reds so far but it is hard to recall the number of times he has looked to be worth more than £30m, let alone £50m.
At RB Leipzig, Keita was a creator. He would receive the ball inside his own half and drive the attack forward, he would make an opening if one didn’t open up for him. Where is that player now?
The same has to be said for Thiago, though his £27m price tag isn’t too open to criticism given the experience in Europe he brings to the squad.
The Spanish midfielder, who has become known for his thumbs up per 90 rather than key passes per 90 on Twitter, is no longer the player that would regularly steal the show in the Champions League. At Bayern Munich, Thiago dictated the tempo games, kept moves flowing and was an integral part of their unit, but now at Anfield, he fails to make any sort of impact when given minutes.
Oxlade-Chamberlain, Keita and Thiago could all step up and improve, whether they will enough to make Liverpool a force this season remains to be seen.
At 35-years-old, Milner can’t be expected to be a difference-maker. He has been a great servant for Liverpool and filled in more positions than he could’ve imagined when signing for the club in 2015. But he isn’t a creative midfielder.
As for academy product Jones (20) and winger-by-nature Elliott (18), they are both exciting prospects that will be key players for the Reds in three or four years, but to put the weight of being the sole creator in Liverpool’s midfield on their shoulders currently is too much.
According to reports, Shaqiri will be leaving Merseyside to join Lyon in Ligue One before the end of the transfer window. The two clubs are currently in negotiations but the Switzerland international has no intentions of spending the 2021/22 campaign sat on the bench.
But what does this all mean? It means that Klopp needs to go shopping, fast. He has a squad bursting with talent in every position, he just lacks one more midfielder.
Thiago, Ox and Keita are sufficient cover and rotation players for cup games or in Europe, but if one or two of them do not step up then Klopp’s side may be battling it out for second-place this season behind City.