What sort of midfielders do Liverpool need?
Liverpool need a midfielder. This is no surprise, secret or revelation.
But there is a big difference between a midfielder and a midfielder suited to Liverpool. There are plenty of midfielders in the world. There are few who are good enough to improve Jurgen Klopp’s middle third. However, one thing that isn’t being discussed in great detail is what sort of midfielder the Reds ideally need.
Is it a controller to fill in for Thiago, a runner to replace Jordan Henderson the right or someone who has the capacity and the ability to do both?
What is more important to this team right now?
There are solid arguments for all three.
A controller is needed due to Thiago’s injury woes. Naby Keita can play that role but he plays it differently to the Spanish maestro. He also has his own injury issues. Curtis Jones can play that role, though fans don’t tend to favour him there and his use of the ball, at times, can be sterile. He’s also one of the few multifunctional midfielders within the squad, so assigning him the role of controller actually narrows down the options available to Klopp. You could say the same about Keita too, with the former RB Leipzig man being used primarily on the right last season.
The difference, however, is that Jones’ profile means he can play a variety of roles as opposed to just the two in midfield. Jones can play as a wide player in a 4-4-2 or a 4-2-4 and the transition is almost seamless.
There aren’t many players at Thiago’s level but there are players with his profile. Given the entire system is tweaked when the former Bayern man isn’t available, it would make sense to prioritise an understudy to him. It would allow Liverpool to play the way they want to, even without their No6.
However, you can’t help but notice the lack of physicality within the Liverpool team these days. Henderson isn’t the athlete he once was and while Harvey Elliott has pressed with his technical ability and work rate on the right, there are games in which you need to fight fire with fire. The Reds used to be able to bully teams physically as well as technically. Now it is very much the latter and not so much the former.
Football has evolved beyond the bigger, faster players always win. But, sometimes, the bigger, faster players do win. A lot of Liverpool’s problematic matches over the last two seasons have been against teams who have those powerful players in the middle third. Powerful in the duel and powerful runners.
There’s a strong case to bring in someone who can level the playing field, somewhat. The midfield needs to be restructured, doesn’t it? In the sense of the profiles involved. Liverpool actually need two midfielders. They need a controller and someone to eventually replace Henderson on the right side of the midfield.
So all of the talk that Jude Bellingham is on the agenda for next summer doesn’t solve all of the issues. It addresses one.