It’s incredible to think that Liverpool were able to completely dominate and dictate the tempo of the match during their 3-1 victory against Arsenal when you consider that the best in the business in regards to that specific trait wasn’t even on the Anfield bench last night.
While the absence of Thiago Alcantara was an immeasurable setback given his outstanding cameo against Chelsea just eight days prior, the setback was by no means insurmountable.
As Jurgen Klopp has persistently eluded to, it shouldn’t be forgotten that the bulk of his squad steamrolled to the title last season in the absence of Thiago.
This marks a particularly scary notion given that Liverpool were able to stroll through the gears against a resolute Arsenal side even without their marque new signing.
Mikel Arteta’s team, as expected, were sitting deep first half soaking up pressure and inviting the Reds to break them down, which would have been precisely the type of game for which Thiago was acquired for.
Instead, Liverpool handed Arsenal a footballing lesson so emphatic, so supreme that Arsenal must have been seeing circles by the end of proceedings.
It was the latest resounding statement dished out by Klopp’s Premier League champions that they are still, by quite a distance, the team to beat in this division – as if a reminder were needed anyway.
Without Thiago, Liverpool were forced to rely on the midfield excursions supplied from Fabinho, Georginio Wijnaldum and Naby Keita and the aforementioned trio certain delivered, to say the least.
Fabinho was the chief influencer and was imperious from start-to-finish. The Brazilian international produced a succession of tackles and interceptions that allowed Liverpool to pin Arsenal within their own half and dominate possession from start-to-finsih.
He made more tackles (3) and interceptions (3) than any other Liverpool player.
The former Monaco starlet had excelled as a stand-in centre-back during the 2-0 win against Chelsea but, reverting to his preferred defensive midfield role, he demonstrated why he is best utilised in his more familiar role. He was unplayable.
Alongside him, was the workhorse Georginio Wijnaldum, who selflessly hounded down possession all night and continually sacrificed himself for the betterment of the team.
His meticulous ability to open up gaps and space out of nowhere really is a trait that arguably no other Klopp player comes close to matching.
The third and final member of Liverpool’s midfield trident was Naby Keita who was making his fifth successive Premier League start – his best run since joining in 2018.
Keita, alongside Roberto Firmino, led Liverpool’s press out of possession and persistently hounded down Arsenal bodies in an attempt to get the Reds back on the front foot.
He took two shots of which none were on target, played one key pass, had a pass accuracy of 98% – higher than any other Liverpool player, took 56 touches, attempted one dribble, and put in two crosses according to WhoScored.
What was most telling about Keita’s performance was the simplicity of it. There were no fireworks, nothing especially flashy, but that’s what proved so effective for his team. He was ferocious in his pressing, immaculate in his positional play and discipline and most importantly he kept the ball moving quickly. The momentum that has followed from regular starts is really benefiting him.
As a unit, the midfield trident were exemplary both on and off the ball, allaying any previous concerns that Liverpool would suffer without the presence of both Jordan Henderson and Thiago Alcântara.
Liverpool’s latest performance proved to Thiago that nobody is guaranteed a place in Klopp’s midfield – not even serial winners such as the Spaniard.
The fact that one of the best midfielders in world football cannot be guaranteed a spot in Liverpool’s starting XI really does paint an incredible picture of just how far the club have risen in such a short time frame
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