Liverpool’s Midfield Pivot: The Rise of Wataru Endō
Endō’s Impact and Departure
It appears there is just one more game before Wataru Endō heads off for international duty, as his footballing nation, Japan, participates in the forthcoming Asia Cup. Despite some early doubts over the quality of the former Stuttgart man, it is now clear that a durable and reliable defensive shield has been signed, one that can be a useful squad member for the next few seasons. In failing to secure deals for either Moisés Caicedo or Roméo Lavia in the summer transfer window, the decision was made to secure a deal for the Japan captain, with the availability of other elite assets dwindling. I for one, am more than happy with the experienced campaigner’s contribution, especially as his level of performance has gradually grown since his arrival. As little as six weeks ago, many of the fanbase would have been largely unperturbed by the international departure of the 30-year-old, however, in the wake of Alexis Mac Allister’s recent knee injury, continual appearances (for the former Stuttgart captain) have seen the 5ft 10inch destroyer revel in his ball winning duties. The pendulum of time now sees Mac Allister about to return to the availability fold, at a time when that defensive midfield position becomes a question once more.
The Midfield Conundrum: Endō vs. Mac Allister
Can Alexis Be the Consistent Ball Winner that Wataru Endō Has Been…?
Though it does seem that certain aspects of Liverpool’s recent results have elevated with the repeated inclusion of Wataru Endō, I would maintain that it is equally the system and its working parts that have also gained increased consistency. After the Newcastle game, Jürgen Klopp will bid farewell to his tenacious number 3, as well as his Egyptian King, Mohamed Salah. The 2024 Asia Cup is due to run from January 12th until the 10th of February, as Japan will be looking to reach the latter stages. The African Cup of Nations will run parallel with that tournament, as that competition will commence on the 13th of January, and until the Final on the 11th of February. Egypt will also be hoping for an extended run, which means the very latest each Liverpool may return, could be their sway fixture at Brentford, on the 17th of February.
Liverpool’s Upcoming Fixtures Amidst the Tournaments
Below are the fixtures after the Reds host Newcastle on New Year’s Day, where you would expect both these starting players to complete ninety minutes before they fly out.
Sunday – 7th January – FA Cup – 3rd Round
Wednesday – 10th January – EFL Cup – Semi Final 1st leg
Sunday – 21st January – Premier League
Wednesday – 24th January – Premier League
Sunday – 4th February – Premier League
Saturday – 10th February – Premier League
Adapting Midfield Strategies: Liverpool’s Response
In terms of the former Brighton player, Alexis Mac Allister, I would suggest that the timely return of Curtis Jones (from suspension and injury), will enable the Argentina World Cup winner to enjoy a more settled journey. Though his best game will undoubtedly be in the more advanced midfield positions, the £35 signing will again be asked to step into the problematic holding midfield role. With balance and a better understanding of the hybrid requirements, Trent Alexander Arnold should now be more effective in forming a solid double pivot with Alexis, as his desire to drive forward at every opportunity seems to have altered into a more controlling position. As mentioned, Curtis Jones is the ideal man to aid in the transition, with his work rate and ability to offer support. Ultimately, the ideal scenario is of course to secure an established player for that role, however, I have little doubt that the refreshed and recharged former Argentinos Juniors player can service what the team needs, especially in the absence of Wataru Endō. Despite not being a dynamic ball winner, you sense a heightened intelligence within the 25-year-old possession-heavy side, something that can see him excel in a way that Arsenals Declan Rice has.
Below are some comparison stats on both players, which highlights just how he can help drive his side forward. Given there is no indication that Liverpool will sign any new players this winter, I am still confident that superior team quality and brilliant leadership from Virgil van Dijk can create a system that flourishes throughout this frenetic period. Alexis Mac Allister may not be operating in his preferred position just yet, though he is more than capable of excelling with his version of middle-ground control.
Alexis Mac Allister on Instagram:
"Back on the pitch with more determination than ever, and I couldn’t be happier. Overcoming setbacks, coming back stronger 💪⚽️
"Thank you everyone for the constant support."
Great to have him back 🫂 pic.twitter.com/LxgjNj06Xc
— Rousing The Kop (@RousingTheKop) December 30, 2023