Jack Hallows gives his opinion on Liverpool’s current midfield and why Jürgen Klopp is wrong not to strengthen this month.
Sign Aubameyang! Or Alexis Sanchez! Or Antoine Griezmann!
Just a trio of the names that Liverpool fans were practically begging to see Jürgen Klopp target on Twitter after news broke earlier this month that the club had commanded £142m during the sale of Philippe Coutinho. Now don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see each and every one of those three at Liverpool Football Club but they’re just not what we need – not yet anyway.
The signing of Virgil van Dijk for £75m has undoubtedly made the Reds’ defence stronger man for man and even if questions still remain over this defence, his presence is at least a first step down the road towards fixing our much-maligned back five.
So where do we really need strengthening?
The obvious one would, of course, be a goalkeeper and encouragingly, both Jan Oblak of Atletico Madrid and Alisson Becker of Roma have been linked extensively throughout this window. However, as much as I’d bite your hand off to see Oblak given the number 1 jersey at Liverpool, there is a bigger issue to address.
The loss of Philippe Coutinho not only saw the Reds selling a player widely regarded as one of their guaranteed sources of goals, it saw them lose their most creative asset.
The little Brazilian had 8 assists for Liverpool so far this season across the Premier League (6) and Champions League (2) and had created an astonishing 53 chances total from 19 appearances. Now, granted, the former Liverpool number 10 took the lion’s share of the Reds’ set pieces which is always going to improve your numbers but that’s just another part of the problem.
After Coutinho’s exit, the Reds have had to turn to Mo Salah and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to deliver their set pieces and while both are talented individuals who possess superb delivery on their day, they’re not quite at the same level of consistency that Coutinho had found this campaign.
Let’s have some extra context here, shall we?
Coutinho had played a total of 1463 minutes of football across the Premier League and Champions League for the Reds this season, predominantly in one of the three midfield spots. The Brazilian was providing a chance for teammates once every 28 minutes and registering an assist every 182.
By contrast, Gini Wijnaldum has assisted a goal every 979 minutes, Emre Can every 658, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain every 370 while club captain Jordan Henderson has just one in over 1600 minutes of football across the two competitions.
The bottom line here is that Liverpool simply are not creative enough in the midfield third without Philippe Coutinho on the field. Given enough chances the front three will bury them – we saw that against Manchester City – but they need to consistently be given the best chance to do so.
Injuries and inconsistency
There’s been a lot made of the fact that Adam Lallana could shoulder some of this burden and inject some much needed creative spark into the Reds’ midfield but the sad fact is, like a number of Liverpool’s current crop, the Englishman’s injury record makes him a fairly unreliable figure.
The likes of Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson can both be superb players when fully fit and firing – just look at how integral they were to some of our better performances last season – but both players have missed over 300 days of football since Klopp arrived at the club.
When both are missing, it leaves Liverpool with only Emre Can to play in the 6, Gini Wijnaldum/James Milner to play in the 8 and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to play further forward. Hardly a midfield selection that’s going to guarantee you regular chances, assists or goals.
Now granted, this midfield selection operates well against top six sides and three of the four were heavily responsible for the Reds’ win over Manchester City just two weeks ago but when teams sit deeper, defend tighter and look to frustrate they can all lack the ability to ‘pick the lock.’ Sometimes counter-pressing simply isn’t an option and a bit of midfield magic is required.
Rectifying the Problem
Jürgen Klopp has said on numerous occasions that he’s happy with what he’s got at the club and will not be panicked into buying extra reinforcements. He’s got a sublime poker face that man.
It’s a well known fact that the German tried to accelerate Naby Keïta’s Liverpool move in a bid to inject some much-needed electricity and creative drive to the Reds’ midfield while Thomas Lemar of Monaco – a creative player capable of operating furthest forward in a midfield three or from the left – has been the other much-linked target.
If Klopp was really that thrilled with his current options, wouldn’t he be prioritising other areas in a window during which he is infamous for refusing to buy?
While I applaud Klopp’s mantra that overspending is ruining football to an extent, it simply just is the way that modern football works now and the German simply is going to have to accept that. Spending £75m on van Dijk was a statement, spending whatever it takes to strengthen this midfield before January 31st would be common sense.