Jürgen Klopp’s Midfield Minefield: Getting the Balance Right

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Jürgen Klopp has a bit of a dilemma on his hands. And for once, it’s not a bad one (well, at least not where his midfield is concerned).

The arrivals of Keita, Fabinho, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wijnaldum in the central midfield area, along with the stalwarts of Henderson and Milner have given the Reds boss a wealth of options in the middle of the park.

The two newest recruits of Keita and Fabinho have certainly got fans excited about what they can expect to see in the new season, but their arrivals have also posed a bit of a problem.

Klopp will have to be very careful as to how he picks his midfield three – if that is a system that he chooses to stick with again – as the wrong decisions could sell his team short.

Per say: picking both Henderson and Fabinho in the same starting 11 is perhaps the easiest example to start off with.

Henderson, who has enjoyed a fantastic World Cup with England, has transformed himself into a deep-lying playmaker in recent seasons, edging away from his early career where he looked to be being utilised as a box-to-box midfielder.

His range of passing is brilliant, he breaks the play up well, he presses incessantly and leads the line for the rest of the team – but he does all of this from a deep position.

If he is put on alongside Fabinho, who looks to have been brought in as a defensive-minded player, the old cliché of Liverpool not having any creativity in the middle of the park will start to rear its ugly head again.

I may turn out to be wrong, and there could well be games where Klopp needs to use this approach to halt teams and shut up shop, but on paper, it looks tricky.

The same can also be said should Klopp go the other way and go too gung-ho about things, for example by picking both Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain alongside Naby Keita in front of a holding player.

Chamberlain impressed so much in the second half of last season that he became an integral part of the side, not just the squad, and his untimely knee injury rather put the brakes on his fine run of form.

Klopp has already said he will wait for him “like a wife waiting for her husband to be released from prison” such was the impact he had, so expect to see him feature heavily as soon as he’s fit again.

Put him into a midfield with Keita, and the thought of their dynamism, power, direct threat and work rate will terrify defences – but will their game styles actually leave Liverpool a bit short in midfield, exposing whoever is playing the holding role to a tidal wave of counter-attacking pressure?

We’ve all seen the lung-busting runs they are both capable of making through the defensive lines. But what happens when these don’t go right, and teams do hit us on the counter with Keita and Chamberlain in advanced positions?

But is running the risk of starting them both worth it if they really break down their opponents with striking devastation?

It’s not a dilemma as Liverpool fans we’re too used to seeing, having class all over the pitch backed up by players who could quite easily be in the starting line up themselves. But it’s something we need to see now, especially if Liverpool are to kick on from their appearance in last season’s Champions League Final in Kiev.

Additions need to be made in other areas to make this a reality, as signings are still needed, but the midfield looks so strong.

Klopp potentially has two, maybe three, different starting options for his midfield now which will inevitably leave some players dissatisfied at a lack of regular starts and game time, but what a powerful position to be in.

But he has to be careful to get the balance right.

So often his midfield has been found wanting, especially in his first 18 months in charge, that he will want to make sure he gets it right.

There may well be another ‘transitional’ period while Klopp works out how best to use them all and which players compliment the others best, but as soon as he gets it right, it looks like we could really have a team on our hands.

However – what happens if we do, eventually sign Nabil Fékir?

Klopp regularly deployed the now departed Philippe Coutinho as part of his midfield three to pull the strings and orchestrate attacks, with every chance that should Fékir sign that he could be used there too as a direct replacement.

Further juggling needs to be done in order to strike a balance.

Different opponents will require different approaches of course, but I do have slight reservations about that central area of the pitch being mismatched.

Klopp has had to do this kind of thing before though, and to great success, so I look forward to see what trick he pulls out of his sleeve when the season begins.

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  1. I don’t understand. You say Henderson has brilliant range of passing and has been a deep lying playmaker. So why couldn’t klopp play Fabinho and hendo – without the “lack of creativity rearing it’s ugly head?”. Fact is hendo can only press, but passing and dribbling he cannot. Squad player

  2. you could be right about how players are paired and how effective they can be when the tide turns against us but as far as I’m concerned, if that is ever an issue and an obvious one… then there has to be a system to its effect, a sort of training, tactical approach and awareness of this possibility to the players and possible solutions to these scenarios you suggest.. if we see an advantage in using said players as paired, go for it and find how to downsize the risk.. i look forward to the kick off as well

  3. England is somehow blessed with many overrated players, and though i hate to say it, Henderson is one of such.

    Look at the world cup, of the final 4 teams, whose dedensive midfielder is Hendo better than? Non!!!

    But I love him, just because i respect him, but the shirt is his to lose. Why? He plays too defensively and makes too many cautious backward and sideways passes and almost never makes runs into opposition 18. Check this – Man City’s, Man U’s Matic, Tothenham’s Dier/Dembele and Chelsea’s Kante; they all make that once in a while run into opposition 18. They hit shots from just outside opposition 18 just because they got there. But hardly Henderson. If i remember the only goal he scored for us last season was from half way into Chelsea’s half. And a former LFC player said something like he would only respect Hendo if he scored a certain number of goals including a tap in while playing as a defensive midfielder. You dont score a tap in from half way into opposition half. Hendo failed the test. Dier almost scored for England in their 3rd place match with Belgium from inside the 6 yard box. When last did we see Hendo in such dangerous positions?

    I understand the need to be dedensive minded and compaxt, but then for all his defensive mindedness, we still concede the odd goals, even more than the other teams whose defensive midfielders make forays into opposition defences. In other words, his staying put in our half and making simple elementary passes has got us nothing defensively.

    I will have no pity for him if Fabinho takes his shirt. Even if our coach asks him to sit back always, i doubt he will be sanctioned if he goes out once in a while like others.

    As much as I know, he and Fabinho will only play together about 10% of our games. Only one of them will play in most of our games and unless Hendo ups hos game, i see him losing the shirt. And i feel sad for that.

    And will we sit here discussing this and another team takes Maguire?

  4. Henderson with brilliant range of passing. Wow, this is like saying “Karius is a brilliant dependable goal keeper that do not cost us points and titles “. Can anyone out there really imagine that


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