Jurgen Klopp has a chance to build a partnership between Gini Wijnaldum and Naby Keita over Liverpool’s final three games. It’s potentially a special one.
Injury opens the door
Now, the only reason this is really possible is because of an injury. Jordan Henderson will miss the rest of the season and thus there’s an open spot in midfield.
The Liverpool captain has been fantastic all season and is probably the only absolute certainty in midfield. With him gone, it allows Klopp to play around with new combinations.
Keita – the leading candidate
So let’s have a look at the quartet who could, potentially, take up that vacant role. There’s Curtis Jones, who played there against Burnley and did play well. We find it difficult to imagine that he’ll face either Arsenal or Chelsea, though, given the strength of those teams.
There’s Alex Oxlade Chamberlain. The Ex-Arsenal man is certainly a good option but he hasn’t played very well since the restart. The best option for the Englishman could be to focus on next season, rather than giving him prominent roles over the last three.
James Milner is struggling a little with injury and we’d be surprised to see Klopp risk him from the start in any games this season.
£53m Keita is our pick, then. He’s played very well in his last two games, picking up two assists and just generally looking threatening. It makes sense to ride this wave and see if something clicks. One thing that could click is a partnership with Wijnaldum.
The pressure is off
It’s not like these two haven’t played together before but the circumstances are unique right now. For one, Keita is in decent form right now, while there’s no Henderson around to replace either.
Most importantly, though, the pressure is off. All three people involved – Klopp, Wijnaldum, Keita – can afford to have a little patience while letting these two play together without any desperate need to get it right.
Because the two of them aren’t used to consistent games together, of course. When Fabinho was injured at the turn of the year, they did play a few but never in a row. Henderson sat behind two but that two were always changing.
Which is a shame because Keita and Wijnaldum started together in arguably the performance of the season.
Leicester City 0-4 Liverpool
Liverpool went to Leicester knowing that a win effectively ended the title race. The Foxes were 2nd at this point and the Reds’ nearest challengers.
But Liverpool demolished them in a sensational performance. And the most notable thing about that lineup was the Keita/Wijnaldum midfield.
Henderson sat in the deeper role, of course, with the two more mobile midfielders having freedom ahead of him. And they used that freedom in an unusual way for Liverpool.
Keita completed seven dribbles in that games, while Wijnaldum managed another four. No one else on the pitch managed more than three – and that was two Leicester players. In fact, their 11 was one more than the entire Leicester team managed that day.
That ability to dribble forward from midfield with the ball doesn’t really happen with the other players. Milner and Henderson are passing players, Oxlade-Chamberlain focuses more on give-and-go’s and bursts of pace, while Jones is too inexperienced to place his strengths just yet.
Thus playing both Keita and Wijnaldum gives Liverpool a very different way of exploiting space. It would be a very useful weapon in Klopp’s arsenal if he can nurture it properly.
The Reds may not sign anyone this summer but they still certainly have ways to improve as a team for next season. This partnership could do just that.