The Reds' Midfield Conundrum

The Reds' Midfield Conundrum

With the transfer window officially opening on Saturday, it’s no secret Liverpool could well be big spenders this summer.

Last season’s 4th placed finish did ensure that the Champions League group stages are within touching distance ahead of next season – but in equal measure, it offers plenty of scope for improvement ahead of next term. It should be another exciting year for Liverpool FC, you can get tickets for next Liverpool game here.

Centre-back and left-back have been heavily touted as positions that Liverpool must improve on next season in order to mount an assault on the title, but manager Jürgen Klopp is also interested in a central midfielder.

The transfer mill has been rife full of speculation that Naby Keita is on the verge of signing Liverpool, after reportedly reaching an ‘agreement in principle’ for the midfielder. If a transfer fee with RB Leipzig is eventually agreed, this will have implications on several players and their game time next season.

In my opinion, the midfield should be at the bottom of the list of priorities for the Reds next season. It is understandable to an extent why Klopp is pursuing another central midfielder, though.

Philippe Coutinho, who excelled in central midfield for Liverpool towards the backend of last season, will likely start in a more deeper role again in 2017/18. His exclusion from midfield at any point could affect the balance of the midfield – and what seems to be lacking from the midfield is a player that can break defences down.

What Klopp needs is a Cesc Fabregas. A player who can break deep-lying defences down, offer an end product as well as offer some defensive protection when needed for full-backs and centre-backs.

So which players should keep their place?

Midfield vs Top 6

Mignolet
Clyne
Matip
New CB
New LB
Henderson or Can
Wijnaldum
Coutinho
Mane
Firmino
Salah

Last season Henderson, Wijnaldum and Lallana all featured in a midfield three in the 4-3-3 formation against top 6 sides. This was wholly effective, with Liverpool ending the campaign unbeaten against the whole of the top 6.

I do feel that continuity is very important – whilst Klopp has at times developed a well-documented cult of being too stubborn in the past when it comes to team selections, it cannot be stressed how important it can be not to change a winning side.

Past Liverpool managers such as Rafael Benitez were guilty of poor man-to-man management – this could again be attributed to his regular rotation of the squad, which was bordering on ridiculous at times.

The aforementioned midfield three all played their respective roles in some assertive performances against the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs, Manchester United & Manchester City – so why change a winning team now?

Georginio Wijnaldum went under the radar early last season for some performances that bordered on anonymity, but his unrivalled importance to the side for games such as these cannot be overlooked.

He has been guilty of being too conservative off and on the ball at times against smaller outfits, but against top 6 sides he has offered something different to the midfield.

He brings the balance and guile at times that is lacking from Liverpool’s midfield. The Dutchman’s inclusion is perfectly justifiable looking at last season’s performances.

Adam Lallana also proved his importance against stronger sides – playing in midfield means that his lack of pace isn’t exposed, and it allows him to bring his energetic game and work ethic to the fore which has been imperative on occasions.

Then, we have the curious case of Jordan Henderson. The skipper hasn’t featured since the foot injury towards the end of February – his influence before Christmas was vital for the side, but it was so easily overlooked by supporters; perhaps Emre Can’s good form towards the end of the season is fresher in fans’ mind.

Despite many of the Englishman’s detractors claiming he only does “backwards passes”, these claims are short-sighted – and despite some dire passing every now and then, his influence cannot be underestimated to the side. However, Henderson cannot be trusted to complete a full season without an injury; therefore it would make sense if he rotated with Can based on form and fitness.

The only change that would likely materialise is Coutinho dropping into his deeper midfield role ahead of Lallana. The reason for this is to offer the guile to break down any teams that come to Anfield with a defensive gameplan.

Verdict: Henderson, Coutinho, Wijnaldum (4-3-3).

Midfield vs Deep Sitting Defences

Many cited Liverpool’s struggle in breaking down deep-block sides last season as a factor in their faltering January form. Despite being able to comfortably beat smaller teams at the start of the season, this was down to the opposition attempting to laudably play a high line at Anfield.

The Reds’ lack of guile and creativity from deep was soon exposed – as without Sadio Mane the midfield seemed deprived of a direct, quick threat that could score plenty of goals. For me, what Liverpool need is a player very similar to Cesc Fabregas in the midfield. A player that can break down defences seamlessly and carry the ball with very good transitions from midfield to attack.

I do feel a Can, Lallana and Coutinho midfield would be exposed against deep-sitting sides – due to its lack of balance. Wijnaldum developed a habit last season for failing to deliver in these kind of games. Many slated the Dutchman’s conservative passing and off-the-ball running, and rightly so. Naby Keita would offer balance in abundance, and his ability to break down defences could prove vital next term.

The 4-4-2 diamond actually did solve Liverpool’s problems regarding width – so why change a winning formation?

Verdict: Can, Coutinho, Keita, Lallana (4-4-2 diamond).