It has been a very difficult season for Liverpool so far and they have contended with injuries throughout. Losing both Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez has caused a lot of selection headaches for manager Jurgen Klopp. However, the German has also had to deal with injuries to the midfield over the season as well. This has very often left him with only three or four fit midfielders, making the selection relatively easy.
With that all being said, Liverpool are now beginning to see a number of their midfielders returning to training and able to get on the pitch. This presents Klopp with a question that he has not been able to ask himself so far this season. What is Liverpool’s best midfield?
The best midfield
Wijnaldum’s contract situation should not detract from the invaluable status the midfielder holds in Klopp’s squad at present. He has shown an ability to slot in anywhere required in recent years, perhaps most famously forming a makeshift centre-back pairing with Emre Can against Brighton in 2017, before it was all the rage of course. His flexibility alongside Jordan Henderson in the middle of the park means the Dutchman’s competence of playing at the base of a midfield three allows Henderson to fully maximise his box-to-box capabilities.
It’s unlikely Fabinho will be back in his usual surroundings in the defensive midfield role anytime soon, particularly with Liverpool’s firm stance on not dipping into the transfer market for a centre-back in January, so Wijnaldum and Henderson covering for each other at the six will be key.
It's becoming more evident in Henderson’s absence that Liverpool play differently without him. It may be beginning to become a cliche, but the Wearside native’s influence on the balance of the starting eleven is vital and criminally understated. The Reds have lost half of the games he has missed across all competitions so far this season. This figure is replicated in last season’s title-winning campaign as well. Over the years Henderson has more than proved his worth to the club and has risen to the challenge of taking the armband from club legend Steven Gerrard.
Throughout games, his commanding presence from back to front boosts confidence in teammates and translates his manager’s fervour onto the pitch. His presence on the team sheet is almost as unquestionable as his desire and drive.
This is the main sticking point when considering who should slot in alongside the usual suspects. A fully-fit Thiago should be one of the first names on the team sheet, such is the impact of the Spaniard, even with so few minutes under his belt at the club (152 minutes played in the Premier League this campaign).
Klopp adapted his system after Phillipe Coutinho’s move to Barcelona, transferring the creative burden out of midfield and onto the full-backs. The opportunity to secure the signature of such a renowned creative influence was one too good to pass up. In that regard, Thiago goes against Liverpool’s transfer strategy, but one that should pay dividends.
The best of the rest
By Callum Ferguson
James Milner makes a good case for being one of the best free transfers in Premier League history. That alone is enough to show how important the 35-year-old has been in helping Liverpool back to the top of English football. Milner is extremely reliable and a great player whose versatility has been demonstrated by his selection in many different positions. He is probably a little too far past his best to get into Liverpool’s best midfield now, but is certainly an excellent player to have around and be available as a squad player.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has had his critics but also provided Liverpool fans with some brilliant moments. His two similar strikes against Manchester City in the league and Champions League set a standard for performances that he has managed on occasion to replicate. His power and drive in midfield is like no other, giving fans a feeling that he is capable of producing special moments on command.
Unfortunately for him, injuries have made his time at Liverpool difficult. This means he is often playing catch-up and struggles to find match fitness regularly enough to make the best midfield. If it wasn’t for that, Chamberlain would be a serious contender. Instead, he has become a player that produces quality and helps the side for a couple of months at a time before ultimately getting injured again.
Much like Chamberlain, Naby Keita’s time at Liverpool has been very frustrating. His quality can’t be disputed. When he is fit, he makes the team and adds a spark to what is normally an industrious midfield.
However, injures and a lack of fitness have made it impossible for Keita to nail down a starting place in the side. Klopp simply cannot trust someone who is not available on a weekly basis. He is entering his third season with the Reds and is still looking to make his mark in the team. That speaks volumes for how injury prone he has been at Liverpool.
If Keita could stay fit throughout an entire season, he too would be another contender for getting into Liverpool’s best midfield. But this is not likely to ever happen, with the Reds potentially needing to cut-ties with the Guinea international.
The young Curtis Jones’ recent performances have given the Merseyside faithful and Klopp much to ponder. The grit and competence shown by Jones has been befitting of the task of playing at the level required of reigning champions. Klopp will have to strike a delicate balance of building on the quality shown by Jones of late, and utilising the word-class maestro in Thiago, who will unlock the low blocks that could be continued to be employed against the Reds.
,Jones has been a breath of fresh air in the Liverpool team and noticeably improved from last season. He has been given much more responsibility and been forced to play in important games throughout the season due to Liverpool’s injury problems. Jones has done a great job in slotting in and looking accustomed to a Premier League level of football. He could certainly be an important figure in years to come.