Dave Davis discusses Jürgen Klopp’s best options in the centre of the park when he has all his players available to him.
This weekend’s result against West Ham was the Reds’ third win in a week and left everyone heading into the international break on a high. When Liverpool return against Southampton though, the starting line-up may be difficult to predict.
With Coutinho, Henderson and Lallana set to return and with the successful change in formation at The Olympic Stadium, fans will have different opinions on how the middle of the pitch may look on a regular basis.
Pros: The skipper is a Klopp favourite and his leader on the pitch. Whenever Henderson has been fit, he’s got the armband. The 27-year-old grabbed a winner against Leicester and looked more like his old self in the second half against Huddersfield, demonstrating his passing abilities.
Henderson can play as the six in a 4-3-3 or one of the holding roles in a 4-4-2. Despite many predictions, you’d expect the England international to lead us out in the next game if he’s fit.
Cons: It was telling how much better Liverpool’s midfield looked without him on Saturday. The skipper can be a little one-paced at times and fans have been digging him out for continuous sideways passing. It’s debatable as to whether Henderson does provide the protection the defence needs, but you’d expect him to start.
Pros: The German has been impressive at times this season with three goals and two assists to his name. The 23-year-old can play any of the positions in a midfield three and one of the holding roles in a 4-4-2. Can’s physical attributes plus the fact that he’s arguably our best defensive midfielder means there’s many who will clamour for him to continue in the side.
Cons: It’s looking increasingly likely Can will be leaving Anfield in the summer and it seems unusual to increase his influence under those circumstances. The former Bayern man has been hit and miss at times this season and Klopp hasn’t been afraid to drop him when needed. Not as good as many fans will make out, it’s difficult to see him in when everyone’s available.
Pros: Gini is clearly a Klopp favourite and one of the few that the German has brought to the club himself. The Dutchman has the ability to play anywhere in a midfield three and multiple positions in a 4-4-2. Wijnaldum does much of the ugly work that goes unnoticed and regularly clocks up the miles during a game. Never too far away from a manager bear-hug.
Cons: One goal and zero assists in sixteen appearances is a poor return to date and you have to wonder how much he’d have played without injuries to others. Away from home, Wijnaldum still remains a passenger at times and from a player who shone in the big games last season, it’s been the other way around this campaign. May find himself an option from the bench.
Pros: England’s Player of the Year is a Klopp favourite and ‘the man who leads the press’ possesses qualities the others don’t. Klopp talked about how big a miss Lallana would be when his injury was announced and few fans have disagreed since. The 29 year old has an incredible engine, technical abilities and links the midfield to the attack.
Hard not to see him being a regular when everything’s correct, especially as the performance of others meant we’ve missed him more. Can play any position in a midfield three and multiple in a 4-4-2. Possibly Klopp’s most versatile player aside from James Milner.
Cons: Injuries have often been a blight on Lallana’s career at Anfield and that’s been the case this campaign too. Klopp may find it difficult to rely on him week on week, as he struggles to be injury free. With Coutinho having the option to drop deeper and Salah proving an instant success, it may not be as certain as many believe. You’d still expect him to be in there somewhere when everyone’s fit though.
Pros: Not everyone is worth Barcelona’s time and trouble, which tells you a lot. The Brazilian magician was Liverpool’s top scorer last season and looked equally impressive on his return this campaign. Four goals and three assists from nine games means Coutinho will start and Salah, Firmino and Mane appear to be nailed on starters in a front three. Can play on the left of a middle three or a few positions in a 4-4-2 and despite all the drama, Coutinho is a guaranteed starter when fit.
Cons: Despite assumptions, the Brazilian has looked most impressive this season on the left side of a front three rather than in midfield. That’s often been due to Klopp’s inability to get him on the pitch at the same time as the first choice front three.
Additionally, in a midfield three defensive responsibility is crucial and that’s not a strong part of his game. Other attributes means that will be more than forgiven though.
Pros: Liverpool’s mister utility has proven that he puts the team above any personal ambition and he must be a manager’s dream. Milner can play anywhere across a midfield three and multiple positions in a 4-4-2. The 31-year-old has been in impressive form recently with three assists and a shout for man of the match performances home and away against Maribor. Milner has drive, experience and the vice-captain has made a case for a starting berth recently.
Cons: It’s clear that Klopp views Milner as a squad option as opposed to a starter. Before Coutinho and Lallana return, he’s found himself on the bench most weeks and even recent performances weren’t enough for a start against West Ham.
The retired England international may be hindered by his versatility as he always appears to make him an option when needed.
Pros: ‘The Ox’ finally looks like he’s starting to get to grips with life at Anfield and has enjoyed a positive run of form recently. The 24-year-old looked at home on the right side of a dynamic front four against West Ham and his goal was well deserved.
Klopp has been clear that the former Arsenal man will become a big player for Liverpool and his pace, directness and ability to beat a man means many Reds want to see him on the team-sheet regularly.
Cons: He will become a big player but that doesn’t mean he’s viewed as such now and Klopp has used the Ox sparingly. It’s hard to see him playing a midfield three, as the manager made it clear he views him as a wider, attacking option. The return of Coutinho and Lallana may make it difficult for him to get a start and patience may be needed by the England man.