Resident Liverpool FC contributor for EADF Kabir Ali weighs in on the selection dilemma Jurgen Klopp faces with respect to his midfield ahead of a tight festive period.
It has been a strange start to the season at Liverpool, to stay the least. The blistering beginning to the Premier League campaign, where they’ve picked up 9 wins and 3 draws in 12 games doesn’t feel as good as it should, with Manchester City at an arm’s length and similarly, unbeaten Chelsea nipping at their heels. Elsewhere, the League Cup campaign came to a premature end with a repeat of last year’s first-round exit. In Europe, things have been stop-start, with qualification still in the balance on the back of some poor defeats.
A slew of uninspiring performances masked by the end results still has Jurgen Klopp’s team searching for its identity. Over in Manchester, Pep Guardiola has his champions finding another gear in their pursuit of perfection. At Stamford Bridge, there’s still an Italian in charge, but that’s where the similarities end. Sarriball is in full flow in stark contrast to the days of Conte and Mourinho. Even at Arsenal, the change to a more modern, energetic style of football, ushered in by Unai Emery has been more than welcome. All this has meant that some soul-searching could well be in order at Anfield.
That search begins in the midfield, an area of growing concern in these early months. Klopp admitted there was no replacement for Philippe Coutinho when he departed for Barcelona in the winter. But this hasn’t been for the want of trying.
A very public pursuit for Lyon’s Nabil Fekir came to a sensational end when Liverpool pulled out at the last minute, having sought a second opinion over the player’s medical results. With murmurings of discontent still rumbling on from the Frenchman’s camp, it remains to be seen whether this transfer tale takes the Naby Keita and Virgil van Dijk route and Liverpool eventually get their man.
However, that is a problem that can only be solved come January. For now, Klopp must make do with what he has. Towards the second half of last season Georginio Wijnaldum, vice-captain James Milner and skipper Jordan Henderson seemingly cemented their places in Klopp’s 4-3-3 system. Summer signings Keita and Fabinho, as well as a fit-again Adam Lallana, made it seem like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s lengthy injury layoff would not be that big of a hit as there was plenty of choice in the middle of the park.
Therein lies the problem. Klopp has yet to put his finger on his midfield of choice, and the team has suffered as a consequence. With Wijnaldum the only regular to hold down his spot in the side, others have drifted in and out of the picture.
Mad how many of Liverpool's midfield options have been adapted from other positions to play centrally 🔴 pic.twitter.com/pfHpBpav3k
— Empire of the Kop (@empireofthekop) November 13, 2018
The German has gone back to the drawing board with a 4-2-3-1 in recent times with Roberto Firmino or newcomer Xherdan Shaqiri dropping into midfield. The downside of this, of course, has been in Mohamed Salah playing as the lone man up top. Increasingly isolated and shackled by opposition centre-backs, it’s clear that the Reds’ greatest attacking asset is at his best with green grass ahead of him down the wing.
And the Egyptian isn’t the only one feeling blue. Firmino’s form has taken a visible hit in the opening months of the season as well. Just 4 goals in 22 appearances following Chamberlain’s injury once again underlines the importance of a helping hand from midfield.
Xherdan Shaqiri has scored or assisted in five of his last six Liverpool appearances. 🚀
— Oliver Bond (@Oliver__Bond) November 11, 2018
Klopp may be a lot closer to finding the solution than is being suggested, however. Shaqiri and Fabinho have been getting more and more minutes under their belt after a slow start. Both will be key if Klopp wants to make the shift to the aforementioned 4-2-3-1 permanent, but with Henderson and Keita back in contention after injury lay-offs, that is easier said than done.
Following the last international break is the manic festive period for all English sides, with 11 must-win games between now and the new year. In between all the domestic and European commitments, Klopp will hope he has his first eleven locked down. Three in midfield? A double pivot? Perhaps the diamond? Decision time is fast approaching for Liverpool and their German boss.
Feature Image via Getty
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