The Football Faithful
·26 January 2023
The Football Faithful
·26 January 2023
Liverpool’s midfield malaise has been viewed as the central factor in the club’s decline this season, with the Reds having looked a shadow of their former selves in a difficult campaign to date.
Jurgen Klopp’s side won a domestic cup double last season and came close to both Premier League and Champions League success, but now find themselves ninth in the table and facing a fight to secure qualification for Europe.
Fans have called for midfield reinforcements this month, but signings are expected to wait until the summer. We’ve decided to assess the club’s current contingent of midfield options.
Are Jordan Henderson’s days as a first-team fixture over at Liverpool?
Henderson has come back from the brink before and has been a key figure in the club’s modern success, but the midfielder has been miles off the pace this season.
He appears incapable of producing the performances which once saw him so effective as the right-side of Liverpool’s midfield three, lacking the endeavour, drive, and energy of his peak years. Klopp’s success has been built on those fundamentals, but with an engine room unable to bring those to the pitch his winning machine has broken down with a malfunctioning midfield.
Jordan Henderson: "One of the toughest things about playing for a club like Liverpool is the standards are so high. Draws can feel like defeats and actual defeats can feel like the end of the world." #lfc [lfc]
Henderson’s decline has perhaps symbolised Liverpool’s this season, a once marauding presence who has been bypassed all too easily. The England international will turn 33 next summer and both the eyes and numbers indicate he is coming to the end at Anfield. There is a role for him, but how prominent remains to be seen.
Verdict: Reduce role
Fabinho’s form this season has puzzled those who watched Liverpool’s ‘lighthouse’ at his best, a defensive midfielder who thwarted opposition attacks and broke up the game with ease.
This season the Brazilian has been a pale imitation of his former self, appearing a footballer in decline despite not turning 30 until October. Fabinho was once deemed irreplaceable to the Liverpool engine room, but this season has found himself on the bench for some of the club’s biggest games.
He has started as a substitute in clashes against Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal this season, following an extended period of poor performances. The secure screen Fabinho once provided has been replaced with a presence who has looked lethargic and leggy, struggling to cover the ground he once ate up in search of the ball.
Klopp has attempted to tweak his side in order to resolve the side’s engine room weakness, but has failed to bring the best from Fabinho. Once considered one of the world’s best anchors, he faces a fight to earn his place back in the side at present.
Thiago Alcantara was the headline signing in the summer that followed Liverpool’s 2019/20 title, arriving with a wealth of top-level experience after silverware success at Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
He has been the standout in an otherwise ordinary midfield this season, providing a mix of work-rate and guile that has been lacking elsewhere.
Thiago has retained his place in the side as Henderson and Fabinho have fallen out of favour for recent fixtures and was impressive in the FA Cup win at Wolves earlier this month, making eight ball recoveries and winning 7/9 duels, in addition to his usual mix of dribbles and enterprising passes.
His arrival was designed to add craft to a midfield largely made up of graft in the Klopp era, but the decline of Henderson and Fabinho this season has impacted his ability to exert control.
Thiago Alcántara effortlessly running the show for Liverpool against Ajax 🤩 @Thiago6 || @LFC || #UCL
That said, Liverpool are a better side when Thiago’s technique is present in the midfield. He leads the club’s current midfield options for key passes, average passes, dribbles, long balls and through balls per 90 minutes this season, while also topping the club’s rankings for tackles and interceptions.
He will turn 32 in April, but should remain a part of short-term plans moving forward. However, the addition of dynamism alongside him is required.
James Milner’s career at the top level has spanned more than two decades, with the midfielder having made his Premier League debut at Leeds, aged just 16, in 2002.
Milner is now fourth for all-time Premier League’s appearances and became the fourth player to reach 600 games in the division earlier this season. A fine servant across seven-and-a-half seasons at Liverpool, he is out of contract at the end of the campaign and his future appears uncertain.
Klopp recently called the 37-year-old ‘an incredibly important player’ when discussing a potential extension, but is Milner still capable of performing consistently for a team at the highest level? His value to driving standards in the dressing room and versatility is not in question, though this summer might be time to move on for one of Liverpool’s great free transfers.
Verdict: Move on
Naby Keita’s career has been one of frustration at Liverpool, with the club having failed to get a consistent return on their £52m investment from RB Leipzig.
Keita has shown flashes of being the dynamic driver from midfielder that made him one of the Bundesliga’s best, but fitness problems have plagued his time at Liverpool. He is another who is out of contract at the end of the season and talks over an extension have been quiet.
📊 Naby Keita 𝙎𝙏𝘼𝙏𝙎 vs Wolves: • Passing Accuracy - 83% • Final 3rd Passes - 4 • Tackles Won - 3 • Clearances - 1 • Headed Clearances - 1 • Recoveries - 3 • Ground Duels Won - 6 (Most) • Aerial Duels Won - 2
He has returned to the side in recent weeks and impressed against Wolves, in what represents his last chance to stake his claim for a new deal. A consistent period of form and fitness appears unlikely however, after five-and-a-half underwhelming campaigns at Anfield.
Keita has never quite turned into the footballer he was expected to become, though has offered enough glimpses to ensure there are some still optimistic that he can deliver in a red shirt.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain appears one player destined for the exit door, with the midfielder in need of regular minutes at this stage of his career.
Oxlade-Chamberlain has struggled to earn a regular place in Jurgen Klopp’s plans since a bright start to his career at the club, as fitness problems have prevented the 29-year-old from earning a sustained run in the side.
He had been a dynamic link between the midfield three and forward line, but a lack of rhythm has seen him tumble down the pecking order. Recent appearances have been in a wide role and Oxlade-Chamberlain could use this summer as a chance for a fresh start in his preferred central position.
He has started just 15 league fixtures across the last two-and-a-half seasons and is out of contract in the summer. A new deal does not appear to be on the agenda for club or player.
Verdict: Move on
Jurgen Klopp was full of praise for Harvey Elliott after the teenager signed a new long-term deal with Liverpool in August, hailing the midfielder as ‘a special young player who has already made a big impact’.
Elliott has been tipped for the top since a record-breaking debut at Fulham aged 15, but saw a breakthrough season at Liverpool halted after a dislocated ankle at Leeds last season. This season he has made 30 appearances in all competitions, operating in a number of roles in Klopp’s struggling side.
Much of his football has come in central midfield, though there are reservations over his athleticism and defensive work. The 19-year-old is among the lowest-ranked midfielders for defensive actions this season and must improve if he is to remain in the first-team picture.
An encouraging performance from the right-wing at Wolves indicated Elliott’s best role for now, though the presence of Mohamed Salah will restrict his minutes out wide.
Harvey Elliott 🤝 Scoring FA Cup bangers The @LFC youngster spots the keeper off his line and bags a beauty 😮💨 #EmiratesFACup
Elliott has huge potential, but remains raw and has perhaps been trusted with too much too soon to date. He has the technical level to develop into a top talent, but question marks remain over whether he has the engine and intensity that Klopp often seeks in central midfield.
Curtis Jones’ career has not kicked on as hoped at Liverpool with the academy graduate in need of regular first-team minutes.
Last season Klopp called himself one of Jones’ ‘biggest fans’ after the midfielder’s performance in a win at Arsenal, recalling how he was first wowed by the Scouser’s skills as a teenager in the academy. Jones, however, is facing a crucial time in his development. He has featured for just 185 minutes in the Premier League this season and has made just two starts across all competitions.
The 21-year-old first broke into the side during the 2020/21 campaign, but two seasons on from that emergence there has been minimal progress. His best position remains unclear, with Klopp having used the midfielder from a position on the left and in a central three.
Jones needs minutes if his career is to not stagnate and at present is not good enough for a regular run in the Liverpool side. He has potential, but needs to show more than he has to date. A loan move could suit all parties, with Jones having fallen behind teenagers Harvey Elliott and Stefan Bajcetic.
Verdict: Loan move
The less said about this deal, the better.
In a transfer which stunk of the similar desperation behind the signings of Ben Davies and Ozan Kabak (remember them?) in January 2021, Liverpool secured a deadline day for Arthur Melo last summer.
Melo arrived from Juventus in a bid to ease the club’s crisis in midfield, but has instead spent the majority of the season on the treatment table. He has featured for just 13 minutes in all competitions.
Verdict: Move on
Liverpool’s issues in the engine room have provided Stefan Bajcetic with an unexpected chance this season.
The teenager became Liverpool’s youngest-ever Champions League debutant against Ajax in September and has since gone on to make ten appearances in all competitions. He scored his first Premier League goal against Aston Villa on Boxing Day and has shown encouraging signs with his tenacity out of possession and composure on the ball.
His impact has been such that he was selected ahead of Fabinho and Jordan Henderson against Chelsea last weekend, emphasising Jurgen Klopp’s faith in the Spanish starlet. The 18-year-old will not have envisaged such a prominent role this season and remains inexperienced, but is doing his utmost to stake his claim for permanent involvement.
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