What is Liverpool’s best midfield line up? With summer new boy Naby Keita struggling in the heart of the Liverpool midfield, many people are concerned. Some people are saying it’s because of injuries, others that it’s Jurgen Klopp’s desire to play him out wide on the left in a 4-2-3-1, or that he just isn’t good enough.
However, instead of forcing a puzzle piece into the wrong slot and hoping nobody will notice, what should Klopp do to get not only Naby’s best but everyone else’s?
The Problem in Liverpool’s Midfield
If you asked any Liverpool fan they would agree that they have at least seven contenders for a midfield spot. Only three people can be selected based on their formation. I will give a breakdown of these contenders and get the ball rolling again at Anfield.
Let’s start with the captain, Henderson. He has been the literal sense of Marmite; some fans love him and some hate him. Henderson plays a vital role in the squad, distributing the ball out wide whilst offering defensive cover. However, with what he can do going forward, it seems to have hindered his ability.
Nonetheless, he has played there and done so brilliantly in the current season, even with the addition of Fabinho. He played incredibly against PSG at home but these came when he played at the number eight with Gini Wijnaldum behind him. So maybe this could be the key?
Wijnaldum has become a force to be reckoned with. His ability to control the play and win the ball back quickly off the opposition means that he brings the balance to the midfield. He has gone from a rotational player in the middle to one of the standouts, that theory being cemented with Liverpool having a 74% win rate with Gini on the pitch.
The timeless wonder that is James Milner; the man is a cyborg. Similar to Gini, he can break up play whilst giving that control when the Reds attack. Milner is Liverpool’s Swiss army knife in that he can play every position, so if he is not chosen in the midfield three, he can cover everywhere else.
A midfield three of Milner, Gini and Hendo have been dubbed the ‘Brexit’ midfield for Liverpool because they’re not attack-minded players and are more about getting the ball back quickly from the opposition and handing it off quickly to faster, attacking players.
The £44 million signing from Monaco arrived as a statement to the rest of the league that Liverpool adding depth to their squad means they are are all in for the upcoming season.
Fabinho had to wait until September for his first competitive appearance for the club and then late October for his first league appearance and start, a start which saw him play alongside Wijnaldum in a dominant win over Cardiff.
Fabinho plays the same role as Henderson but has the creative flair due to his knowledge of the position of where people will be and the weaknesses in a defence. He has looked brilliant at home and inconsistent away from Anfield, but I have no doubt that he will be a great player at Liverpool for a long time.
The second of three midfield signings, Naby was in the starting line up from the opening matchday. He played very well against West Ham and dazzled fans and whilst he has impressed in the early stages.
Support is slowly fading and people are questioning what is wrong. He is very attacking, creative and fast, on his day causing chaos for defences but sometimes his lack of experience shows, with him losing possession multiple times.
Him playing alongside another attacking creative player makes people wonder if not having a strong physical presence alongside him or not playing the right formation for him is hindering his performances.
The third midfield signing from relegated Stoke City. Shaqiri arrived at Liverpool for a cheap £13 million. He is arguably the signing of the season (because of his production versus price tag) along with Alisson Becker (whose large price tag looks justified).
Shaqiri has become a quick fan favourite because of his energy, desire and for recently scoring twice against Manchester United in a 3-1 win. Shaqiri adds depth to not only the wingers but to the midfield. Some question if he will go to the wing once the next man returns around April/May.
The Ox – a man transformed from the player at Arsenal. Ox was one of the first to set a new trend in the Premier League of wingers playing in midfield. His energy allows the press of Liverpool to go up another level.
His injury last year, which has kept out for nearly half a year, was heartbreaking. He was amazing for Liverpool. Like Keita and Shaqiri, he is quick, direct, a great dribbler and can unleash a rocket like he did against Manchester City in the Champions League (and the Premier League, actually…)
Once he returns and his back up to full speed, he has a real shot of cementing his spot once more.
I think Adam Lallana’s time at Liverpool has come to end and that he will be joining Daniel Sturridge and Alberto Moreno in leaving the Reds this summer. Injury setbacks and a lack of production means that he is way down the pecking order. His wages can be freed up and his spot taken by midfield youngsters Ben Woodburn, Rafael Camacho and Curtis Jones.
He was a surprise start against West Ham and looked to have paid back his managers faith with some clever trickery to set up an attack which ended with a Sadio Mane goal.
But his performance went downhill to the point that critics like ex-Liverpool player and Sky Sports analyst Jamie Carragher summed him by saying: “In the first 20 minutes he (Lallana) did more Cruyff turns than Johan Cruyff had done in his whole career”. Lallana might just be cover until the end of the season and maybe won’t start again.
Although it would be spot on to say that with everyone healthy the selection is down to a tactical decision, I won’t kop out. One selection for the rest of the season? Henderson, Wijnaldum and Keita. I love Fabinho but I feel that if Henderson HAS to play the number six role then I want Hendo. Gini has the correct balance to bring out the best in Keita and the attacking force that he brings. He also can bring that defensive cover across the entire pitch.