In the past two years, Liverpool’s starting midfield three has not had a consistent look to it, mainly due to injuries and new arrivals but even with the new season kicking off, fans of the reds are still divided on who should be in Jurgen Klopp’s midfield.
In 2017/18 season, the midfield three, for the second half of the season, had an English contingent of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, James Milner and captain Jordan Henderson. This midfield seemed to be the best Liverpool had at their disposal at the time.
Henderson’s solidity and passing range from the holding midfield position, accompanied with the experienced, hardworking, James Milner and the creativity and pace of Alex Oxlade Chamberlain that saw Liverpool reach the Champions League final, which they lost to Real Madrid.
However, a serious knee injury to Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, in the semi-final versus Roma, meant that he would be out for the best part of a year.
2018-19 New Signings
The injury to the former Arsenal man was not a huge disaster to the Liverpool side as a deal had already been arranged to bring in RB Leipzig’s creative midfielder Naby Keita in a deal reportedly worth £52.75 million.
That deal, along with the signing of AS Monaco holding midfielder Fabinho, meant Jurgen Klopp had options and competition within his midfield.
In the 2018-19 season, Fabinho and Keita took time to settle into the league. Fabinho, by November/December, was a crucial part of the midfield three. However, Naby Keita, who struggled with injuries, wasn’t living up to the hype that surrounded him when he joined.
Fabinho’s impact on the side saw a change of position to captain Jordan Henderson, from a number six to a number eight, where he flourished and solidified his place in that midfield alongside Fabinho.
By March of 2019, Naby Keita had found his feet in the Liverpool side, he was scoring goals, getting assists and was a regular in Jurgen Klopp’s midfield. An injury in April meant that he would miss the rest of the season and the Champions League final, where the reds beat Spurs 2-0 in Madrid.
The New Season
The return of Alex Oxlade Chamberlain from injury now means Klopp has a whole host of midfielders he can choose from, should they all stay fit. Klopp has: Henderson, Milner, Wijnaldum, Fabinho, Keita, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Adam Lallana all to his disposal for the season ahead. Here are a few of the combinations Klopp will most likely use throughout the season.
Jurgen Klopp has started the season with these three players as the starting midfield for the Community Shield loss to Manchester City and the Premier League opening day win against Norwich.
Some Liverpool fans have been critical of Gini Wijnaldum’s performances in both games with questions being asked of what he brings to the side. Gini is a similar player to Milner in how he performs in the midfield three. Wijnaldum isn’t the player to create chances or openings for attackers, he provides defensive solidity to the midfield and does the hard work that goes under the radar.
As our play is filtered through our full-backs, both Gini and Henderson, in the number eight positions, make runs and fill spaces that allow openings for both Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold. When on the ball, they are both aren’t asked to create chances all the time but to move the ball around to our more creative players like Salah, Mane, Firmino etc.
This midfield is more than likely going to be utilized during the big games versus the top six in the league with also Milner potentially coming in for Wijnaldum as they are similar players.
In March/April of last season, this midfield three worked brilliantly. Henderson and Fabinho are the two guarantees in the midfield three for Klopp with how well they have been performing in the same team with Henderson’s energy and Fabinho’s ball-winning attributes.
Keita has been called by parts of the Liverpool fan base to start instead of Wijnaldum due to the creativity he provides compared to that of the Dutchman. When Keita does play, Liverpool do play slightly different as Keita is able to pick up the ball on the half-turn and is able to play threaded through balls to our front three. Keita is a player who can find that killer pass and it’s what some Liverpool fans want in that midfield.
For all his attacking work, Keita does have questions when it comes to his defensive work and how well he tracks back in that midfield and if he is able to keep it up for a long period of time. There are no doubts that Wijnaldum’s defensive work is better than Keita’s but Naby has that creativeness that is a real danger for any side.
The serious knee injury to Oxlade-Chamberlain did put a halt into his development as a Liverpool player and ultimately cost him a season at the reds. However, not many fans have forgotten what he brought to the side during the 2017-18 season.
Chamberlain is a different player to that of Naby Keita in terms of how he creates from the midfield. This is due to his sheer pace, Ox provides that explosives and penetrating runs from the midfield that proved so effective during that season.
Not only did Ox have that pace and power in the midfield but he also had an end product soon. He and Salah had such an understanding which yielded so many goals for Salah and assists for Chamberlain. Alongside that was his ability to score from long-range. His two goals versus Manchester City, in the league and the Champions League, showed what he brought to the Liverpool midfield and hopefully what he can bring to the table this season too.
James Milner and Adam Lallana are also in the squad for the season ahead. It is looking like Milner will be a utility player this season with him also perhaps playing in some of the big games for experience but should there be injuries in the full-back area or in midfield, Milner is an adequate replacement for anyone.
There has been talk about Lallana playing in the number six role this season but I expect that to be in cup matches at the most with him making a few cameos off the bench in what looks like his final season in a Liverpool shirt.