Jurgen Klopp raised a few eyebrows with his team selection for Liverpool’s recent Premier League victory away to Aston Villa.
With Fabinho walking a suspension tightrope ahead of this coming weekend’s top of the table clash with Manchester City, the Brazilian sat the game out.
In his stead, most assumed that Jordan Henderson — who played the number 6 role for two and a half season’s under Klopp — would slot in.
However, in a move that surprised all Liverpool fans, the keys to the deepest midfield role were handed to Adam Lallana.
Although the reason Fabinho wasn’t picked was clear, Klopp elaborated on the decision to pick the former Southampton man in such an unfamiliar role.
“It was not so difficult because we had a look at the things we needed against Villa and I think you saw how good Adam Lallana worked in that system,” the German said.
“It’s a game (Villa) where we had a lot of possession. We had to see how Adam recovered from midweek, but at the moment he is fine. The decision was not so difficult.”
When viewed through the prism of a 31 year old attacking midfielder learning a tactically nuanced position on the fly, Lallana performed admirably well versus the Villains.
What will encourage Liverpool fans most, though, is the cognisance in the Melwood coaching corridors that the Reds need midfield creativity in certain games.
In a season where a team wins 97 league points and loses once, it would be extremely difficult to find flaws and faults. But ultimately, Liverpool didn’t win last season’s title because of too many league draws (seven in total).
Draws away to Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea are always credible results, but the same cannot be said of being held away to Everton — despite the added passion brought into the equation from a derby match — at home to Leicester and away to West Ham.
The common thread between most of those draws was Klopp electing to pick a more defensively robust and workmanlike midfield.
Georginio Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson deserve credit for their selflessness in advanced number 8 roles in the engine room. Their function, more than anything else, is to cover their marauding full backs, Trent Alexander Arnold and Andrew Robertson, and be the conduits to the team’s primary hubs of creativity.
But certain opposition and game scenarios require a different tactical approach and different players and Klopp’s selection of Lallana — more than the player himself playing there — is an indicator that the German may be more willing to diversify his midfield play book this season.
A regular ploy from opponents of the European Champions is to mark Liverpool’s wide players and to force the Reds’ midfielders to try and create opportunities, which, often times, they cannot craft.
With a “play making option” in midfield, however, a player capable of getting the attacking players on the front foot, Liverpool can vary their point of attack and add another element to their already potent goal scoring abilities.
In Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, Lallana and perhaps even Xherdan Shaqiri, the Liverpool manager has the scope to not only change shape — to play a 4231 — but to add artistry and imagination to the middle third of the pitch.
The form of Oxlade Chamberlain and Keita in the home and away legs of the recent Champions League clashes against Genk has shown that the European Champions’ squad has bona fide midfield creativity, should they need it.
The Englishman scored three excellent, long range goals against the Belgian champions and his Guinean team mate looked assertive with the ball and defensively tuned in off of it.
The richness of options in Liverpool’s midfield — not to discount the calming influence James Milner can bring upon starting or being introduced as a substitute, or the wildcard ability of young Curtis Jones — and their ability to pick a horses for courses midfield, depending on the circumstances a game or an opponent brings, is a major weapon in Klopp’s arsenal.
It started with Lallana, but Kopites will hope that increased engine room creativity will end with a Premier League title.