It's time for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita to shine
Image: Getty Images/Jean Catuffe

As Liverpool announce that Fabinho is set to be sidelined for 6-8 weeks with an ankle injury, there are two players who should see this as an opportunity to become key figures in Jurgen Klopp’s midfield: Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Fabinho was substituted early in the Reds’ 1-1 draw to Napoli midweek after he appeared to fall awkwardly in a challenge.

The midfielder attempted to carry on, but was taken off shortly after for Georginio Wijnaldum.

The extent of the injury was revealed on Friday morning as the Merseyside club prepare to face Brighton in the Premier League, and it was bad news for Liverpool fans.

Fabinho's ever-growing importance

Since joining the Reds in the summer of 2018, the Brazilian midfielder has enjoyed a successful career so far at the North West club.

After taking the first half of the 18/19 season to adapt to life in a new league, Fabinho has become a vital cog in Klopp's machine-like midfield.

The 26-year-old sits deepest of the three as the 'anchor', tasked with controlling the game and is involved in all phases of play.

A key facet of his game is spotting and dealing with danger; he's often sliding in to perfectly-timed challenges or using his intelligence to press and cut off passing lanes.

Fabinho's awareness and style led to assistant coach Pepijn Lijnders describing him as a 'lighthouse' earlier this year in an interview with ESPN.

He said: "Inside the ‘organised chaos’ that we want, that we like, he is like a lighthouse, he controls it.

"With a player like Fabinho in the middle, the ball always goes out round. That's how they say it in Portuguese. His timing, his vision, his calmness, it gives another dimension to our midfield player."

The one thing he'd been missing was goals, but that changed when his wonder-strike gave Liverpool the lead earlier this month in their crucial clash against title-rivals, Manchester City - a game they went on to win 3-1.

The former Monaco man has become increasingly important to the Reds' style of play since becoming a first team regular earlier this year.

Now, Klopp must find the answers to a problem he wishes he didn't have - how do you replace such an influential player?

Two players that have fallen down the pecking order

It's no secret that the Reds boss likes to rotate in midfield, with the constant pressing and running, it goes without saying that players need to be kept fresh.

Whilst Fabinho was the least rotated of the three, the likes of Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson and James Milner find themselves in and out of the side.

But, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Keita have become forgotten men at Liverpool as they've both struggled with injuries since joining the club.

Oxlade-Chamberlain was sidelined for almost the entirety of last season after damaging every major knee ligament in their semi-final home tie against Roma in the 17/18 Champions League campaign.

Keita is yet to prove his £53m price tag after joining the squad in the summer of 2018. 

His first season on Merseyside was mixed, with some fantastic performances and flashes of his quality, but he was never able to nail down a starting position and was often held back by niggling injuries.

With the stakes high, Klopp is known to resort to his most tried and tested midfield trio and Henderson and Wijnaldum are often the preferred options.

But as the busiest period of the season approaches, the former Dortmund boss will need to consider his options and either player could be set to feature a lot more heavily in the coming weeks.

Time to step up

It's pretty common in football that players must sometimes wait for an injury to occur for them to be given the chance to step up and prove their worth - ask Andy Robertson.

Whilst Fabinho's injury is a blow to Liverpool, it could provide a golden opportunity for either Oxlade-Chamberlain or Naby Keita to come into the fold and make everyone question why they were ever left out.

Speaking to the press ahead of Liverpool's Premier League tie against Brighton, Klopp outlined the names he expects to fill in the no.6 role.

He said: "Hendo played the position. Gini played the position already, Adam Lallana played the position. We can change system, we can do different things.

"How I said, losing a player with the quality of Fabinho is big, it’s massive but, how I said, we are not the only team in the Premier League with injuries."

As Wijnaldum and Henderson have been playing further forward since Fabinho's rise, the fact one will be forced deeper will leave space further up the field for either Oxlade-Chamberlain or Keita to come in.

Of course, they'll have Milner and Lallana to compete with, two names the Reds boss places huge amounts of trust in.

Ox has impressed when he's been called upon this season, not least with his two sublime finishes against K.R.C. Genk away in the Champions League.

Keita, on the other hand, has played a total of 319 minutes across all competitions so far this term, a number that should be much higher.

Klopp confirmed on Friday that the Guinea international is okay after he missed out midweek due to illness, meaning he could be in line to feature at the weekend.

A run of games could prove to be turning points for either player and a home game against 12th-placed Brighton could be the perfect moment to inject some drive and creativity into the midfield.

The majority of Liverpool's threat comes down the flanks with their forward-thinking full backs, but it could be time to give the opposition something else to think about with a creative mind causing problems more centrally.

One thing Liverpool do have is midfield depth. An injury to Fabinho is tough to take, but everyone at Liverpool can take comfort in the fact they have two £40m+ stars on the sidelines waiting for their time to shine.

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