If you polled people to ask them the words they most associate with Liverpool’s midfield, the descriptions you would mostly see would be “functional, stodgy, obstinant, no-frills.”
While not always the easiest on the eye — although, when asked to play progressively, they can weave pretty patterns and pass through opponents with the build-up to Roberto Firmino’s goal at Manchester City last season a shining example of this — the Reds’ engine room’s effectiveness cannot be disputed.
With World, European and surely English medals in his ever-expanding trophy case, Jurgen Klopp’s decision to primarily use his midfield trio — usually Jordan Henderson, Fabinho and Georginio Wijnaldum — as defensive conduits that allow the bombastic full-back duo of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson and the prolific front three, Mohamed Salah, Firmino, and Sadio Mane, to express themselves has been more than justified.
But this hasn’t always been the German’s approach, with the utilization of Adam Lallana in a midfield three in the 2016/2017 season testament to the former Borussia Dortmund coaches tactical flexibility.
Primarily an attacking midfielder, Lallana’s move to a deeper role facilitated his best run of form — seven goals and eight assists in the league — in a Red jersey and also represented the most goal-laden return from a midfielder in the Klopp era(2015 to present).
Using his ambidexterity and appetite for running, the former Southampton captain was a productive third man runner from midfield; benefitting from the spaces created by the then front three, Mane, Philippe Coutinho and Firmino.
Inconsistent performances and injury issues have prevented Lallana from recapturing that goal sodden run and, with his contract expiring at the end of the current campaign, 16/17 will go down as the England international’s best season at Anfield.
With the 32-year-old departing to pastures new and the COVID constricted transfer market, Liverpool could look closer to home to fill any midfield goal scoring midfield role.
Academy midfielder Curtis Jones shot to prominence when his wonder goal lead a young Reds team to Merseyside Derby victory over Everton in the F.A. Cup in January.
This season could be considered a breakthrough campaign for the young Liverpudlian, whose derby winning goal came after he was handed his Premier League debut a few weeks earlier away to Bournemouth and regularly featured on the bench — making another appearance, to bring his total in the league to two — until the global pandemic saw a temporary halt called to the domestic fixtures. The midfielder also has the distinction of being the youngest captain in the Reds history, as he wore the armband for a heavily changed, youth-based Liverpool team in their 1-0 FA Cup win over Shrewsbury Town in February
With an aggressive ambition on the ball — the 19-year-old is always keen to go for the jugular of the opposition with direct, defence breaking passes and partial to a shot from distance — allied with the required athleticism, tactical acumen — perhaps the most important trait for a Klopp midfielder — and refined technical ability, Jones — who shares most of his compatriots best attributes — could fulfil the “Lallana 16/17” role in years to come.
Standing 6’1″, the England U19 international has the physical profile to play in the often aerobically intense cauldron of the engine room and — as he ages — he can add a more powerful element to his game and he starts to fill out his frame, which will beneficial for a pressing, quick transition side such as the Reds.
With Liverpool likely to win the league with games to spare — at the time of writing Klopp’s men need two wins from their nine remaining Premier League fixtures to claim their first league title since 1990 — the academy graduate could have a pressure-free platform to show his wares towards the tail end of the season and potentially offer Klopp another attacking weapon in his already impressive armoury; one not regularly seen since the German’s first full campaign.