Champions Squad Evaluation: Midfield

Last week I wrote about the defensive unit; a piece in which I suggested that a backup left-back was the major area I thought needed improvement. I have, therefore, been watching with interest as the links to both Jamal Lewis of Norwich and Kostas Tsimikas have emerged. Given the emergence of the news that we’ve been watching the Olympiakos player for three years and the fact that I can’t remember the last time Liverpool made a bid for a player as public as they have for Lewis, I’m reasonably certain that the noises around the Norwich player were a distraction aimed at getting the Greek side to shift their position in negotiations. Whilst it’s harsh on Lewis, it once again shows the brilliant and cut-throat nature of Michael Edwards’ negotiation technique. I still think we need to bring in a centre-back to offer cover for the three senior ones currently at the club, but I have to confess that it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen at this stage.

That is because the most credible link being discussed continuously is to Thiago Alcantara, the Bayern Munich midfielder who is twenty-nine, has had injury issues and would be on big wages. Personally I’m of the opinion that the deal is already done but that it won’t be announced until the German club’s Champions League exploits have come to a close. The most obvious question is whether a move for a midfielder is really a necessary one, considering the lightness in defence and the fact that the drop-off from the front three to Divock Origi is far too great. Should we really be using up a chunk of our resources on a position that is already somewhat over-stocked? The answer to that really depends on whether you think the midfield actually is over-stocked and how Jürgen Klopp plans to use the men in the middle in the future. If his plan is for Fabinho to be our fourth-choice centre-back, for example, then another player who can play defensive midfield is needed.

The Job Of Midfield

The most important thing to bear in mind when discussing the midfield in a Jürgen Klopp Liverpool side is what he actually expects his midfielders to do. We as supporters might want them to be weighing in with goals every week, but the manager wants them to support both defence and attack first and foremost. We have two of the best full-backs in the business, so it makes complete sense for the midfielders to ensure that we can get the ball to them as quickly as possible and that their space is covered as they vacate it to move forward. The point of that is to say that some people might moan that the midfielders don’t get enough goals, but that’s not what they’re there for. What will be far more concerning to Jürgen Klopp and his team is that the midfield is an ageing part of the squad and as the players get older they’re more likely to pick up injuries. We saw exactly that with Jordan Henderson, who missed the end of the campaign with a knock.

I love Henderson and I voted for him as Player Of The Year, not as a wind-up but because I believe that the combination of what he’s done on and off the pitch means he deserves it. He is thirty now, though, so he doesn’t have that much running left in him. Adam Lallana has left the club, Harry Wilson will be sold this summer and James Milner is thirty-four. With Gini Wijnaldum’s contract situation still not having been resolved and Naby Keita yet to prove that he can stay fit enough to be depended upon, it doesn’t take much to feel as though Liverpool’s midfield isn’t as well-stocked as it seems. Don’t get me wrong, I expect Jordan Henderson to remain a crucial part of it for years to come, but I also think that the manager and his team would be negligent if they weren’t thinking about the next evolution of the Liverpool midfield. Does Marko Grujic fit into that? He’s about the only player in the right age bracket at the moment.

What We Need

What we need added to our midfield, other than some younger players, will depend entirely on how Jürgen Klopp is thinking of using it in the future. Is he not too worried about bringing in an additional forward because he plans to alter the formation somewhat dramatically for the campaign that lies ahead? Does he think the defence is fine because he’ll just ask the likes of Gini Wijnaldum or Fabinho to play in it in the event of injuries, much as he has done in the past? Eagle-eyed observers will have noticed during the final few games of the season that we were playing in a different way to what we’d done for most of the campaign, with our deepest lying midfielder regularly splitting the central defenders more than usual. The manager might well be thinking that that’s something that he could look to do in the future, so he’ll need players capable of pulling that off. Can Henderson do so if Fabinho is injured? What if he picks up an injury too?

Thiago might well be the player that the majority if Liverpool fans want, but is he really the player that we need? His age and experience are both strong factors for trying to bring him in, whilst his playing style would make it an exciting signing. With the lack of younger players available for the midfield other than Curtis Jones, though, I’m not totally convinced that it will be money well spent. Jones looks a brilliant prospect and I think he’ll be a mainstay soon enough, with his role in the final goal against Chelsea in the last game of the season proving that he can fit well into this squad. He won’t be able to do it all on his own, however, and I find myself wondering where the rest of the midfield cover will come from if Wijnaldum’s days are numbered and all but Fabinho in terms of our first-choice players are ageing now. Perhaps I’m just being a bit too negative, but I want Jürgen Klopp to have a dynasty, not a flash in the pan.

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