Liverpool’s Midfield Trio Must Be Kept Apart
Before Philippe Coutinho decided to cause trouble and Adam Lallana picked up a lengthy injury, Liverpool’s best possible starting lineup was a mouthwatering proposition.
Assuming your approach was as gung-ho as mine, it was easy to envisage Coutinho and Lallana ahead of a deep-lying midfielder, with Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino further wreaking havoc in attack. To have that quintet all on the same pitch at once is enough to blow any team in Europe away on its day – this is before we even dream about Naby Keita replacing the unlucky Lallana.
In typical Liverpool fashion, however, things have not panned out the way we have hoped so far this season, with Coutinho’s and Lallana’s aforementioned issues seeing to that.
Instead, both of the Reds’ matches to date, against Watford and Hoffenheim, have seen Jordan Henderson, Emre Can and Gini Wijnaldum make up a midfield-three.
Before we get into why it is such an issue playing the trio alongside one another, I feel it is important to discuss my admiration for them all individually.
Henderson is someone who has received more unnecessary criticism than any Liverpool player this century, recovering from a dreadful start at Anfield to eventually captain the Reds and become a key player. He will never be loved by the masses because so much of what he does goes unnoticed, but when he is fully fit and on top of his game – and he is a long way off that right now – the Reds always play better.
Can, meanwhile, is a footballer who has the lot, and at such a tender age. The German can be unstoppable when he wants to be, marauding about the pitch in box-to-box fashion, and his quality on the ball, improved intelligence and fighting spirit make him someone Liverpool must keep hold of for years.
Wijnaldum can be guilty of disappearing in matches on occasions, as we have seen in both games already this season, but on the whole, he is a fabulous player with one of the most intelligent footballing minds in Liverpool’s squad. His ability to know exactly what is going on around him and make the right decisions time and time again makes him integral, as do his goals from the middle of the park.
We need to start seeing more from the Dutchman away from home, but he is a player teammates cherish taking to the field with.
All three of these midfielders have definite futures at Liverpool, and while none are perfect, their positives outweigh the negatives quite comfortably.
Sadly, playing all three in the same team doesn’t work in the slightest, though.
If we didn’t know that already, their performance as a unit against both Watford and Hoffenheim confirmed it, with their display as forgettable as it was frustrating.
Without a Coutinho or a Lallana figure in midfield to weave magic and do something unpredictable, Liverpool have looked horribly one-dimensional with their choice of midfield personnel.
There has been no piece of genius to open up the defence – Can did well for Mane’s goal at Watford, in fairness – with Henderson, Can and Wijnaldum all looking uncomfortable with more attacking expectations on their shoulders.
All three are at their best as a vital cog in the wheel, and that has really showed in the last week or so.
This lack of guile makes the entire team look pedestrian, with the first-half at Watford particularly infuriating.
All three have been as guilty as each other: Henderson has sometimes been too cautious on the ball, Can takes too long on it and Wijnaldum isn’t getting it at all.
Klopp will hopefully be well aware that this choice of midfield is blunting his side’s attack, and it has highlighted the need to sort transfer issues as soon as possible.
If the disastrous does happen and Coutinho leaves for Barcelona between now and Deadline Day, the importance of signing a replacement cannot be stressed enough.
With Lallana out until October or November, not bringing in a new, creative face would be completely unforgivable.
Of course, the hope is that Coutinho stays and slots straight back into the team again – have you seen how bad Barcelona look, Phil? – but that is far from a given right now.
The remaining couple of weeks of the transfer window feel so critical, both in terms of Liverpool’s future and FSG’s legacy, and sorting the one-paced midfield has to be right at the forefront of Klopp’s thinking.
With so many matches to tackle this season, Henderson, Can and Wijnaldum will all earn lots of playing time, but only two should ever start the same game.
Every supporter will have their choice of who should drop out if everyone was fit for a big game, but seeing the trio dovetail together is not something we want to witness again.
By all means, have all three on the pitch when Liverpool are trying to see out a game – their experience and all-round quality is undeniable – but when it comes to breaking down the opposition, it has shown too often that is does not work.
Hopefully we have seen the last of it.