If there are any places up for grabs in the Liverpool team, midfield is the most likely area for change. Fabinho is essential, but Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum could be under threat from the likes of Adam Lallana, Naby Keïta and, in particular, an injury-free Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
During 2019, Liverpool’s first-choice midfield has been Fabinho, captain Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum. Designed to protect Liverpool’s attacking full-backs and provide energy and stamina to the team, the first-choice midfield three have been hugely successful, contributing towards Liverpool’s ninety-seven points tally in the Premier League and the Champions League title last season – plus the six point lead to start this season’s league campaign.
Following the Reds’ 1-1 draw away to Manchester United last weekend, Liverpool entertain Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield, as they attempt to hold onto their lead at the top of the table for the next two weeks. Then, before the November international break, the Reds face a crunch clash with their title rivals Manchester City at Anfield.
Reds get back on track against Genk
In-between United and Spurs, Liverpool travelled to Belgium to take on Genk in the Champions League and ran out 4-1 winners to edge one step closer to the knockout stages in February.
Despite taking an early lead, Liverpool were susceptible at the back to Genk’s fast counter-attacks and did not completely settle despite controlling the majority of the game in the first half.
In the second half, however, the Reds improved and put the Belgian champions to the sword with three more goals, before a Dejan Lovren mistake led to a late Genk consolation to close the match.
Nevertheless, Liverpool deserved their win, and victory against the same opponents at Anfield in a fortnight’s time will almost ensure their progression from Group E.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s Liverpool return could be worth the wait
Despite wonderful goals from Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah, ninety minutes for Naby Keïta and ongoing issues with the defence, the most notable takeaway from the game was the performance of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
The 26-year-old netted twice from outside the box, opening the scoring for Liverpool after less than two minutes with a low drive into the bottom corner, before scoring a peach of a goal with the outside of his right foot into the top corner to put the game beyond Genk in the second half.
After his injury hell – with knee and ligament damage resulting in his journey back to the first-team lasting effectively a year, plus the extra months rebuilding his fitness and match sharpness – to see Oxlade-Chamberlain start a Champions League game, let alone score twice, was fantastic to see.
His attitude around the club has always been first-class ever since he arrived at Anfield from Arsenal two years ago, and no one deserved that moment more than him.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s full return is timely for Liverpool. Despite all of the benefits a Fabinho, Wijnaldum and Henderson triumvirate provide in midfield, a player with drive and a goal threat going forward in the midfield three would add another option to Liverpool, particularly if the opposition are successful negating Liverpool’s front three and full-backs, as Manchester United did frequently last Sunday.
Creativity required in Liverpool’s midfield?
Keïta, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Adam Lallana all came on as substitutes against United, and to good effect as Liverpool took control in the latter stages and managed to find an equaliser through Lallana.
All three are brilliant players with the extra creative touch Liverpool lack in their first-choice midfield. However, playing in the final ten minutes against a tired United can only tell Jürgen Klopp so much, and his system struggles for defensive balance when two of Keïta, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lallana are in the starting line-up, as Genk showcased on Wednesday.
Moving forward, a place in the midfield could open up alongside Fabinho and perhaps one of Wijnaldum or Henderson, instead of both, though the type of match, tactics and opposition will also be direct influences on how Liverpool line-up.
Tottenham might be too soon to witness a subtle tweak to Liverpool’s midfield, but if it happens, Oxlade-Chamberlain is currently at the front of the queue to benefit – not a bad position for him considering where he was a year ago.