Do The Current Crop Of Midfielders Deserve More Respect?

Legends matches at Anfield are a funny affair. I remember going to one about ten years ago with my dad and the pre-match build-up was full of respect for the celebrity team that made up the opposition, but as soon as the referee blew his whistle a bloke behind me shouted, in all seriousness, “into these, Reds! They’re sh*te!”. He then spent the ninety minutes that followed being as exasperated and annoyed at misplaced passes as if he was watching a top of the table clash between the first team and Manchester United. He took it deadly seriously, in spite of the fact that the Liverpool team was made up of the likes of Kenny Dalglish, John Barnes and Ian Rush. He certainly didn’t give the impression that he thought it was just a bit of a laugh, nor did plenty of those around him. It made me realise that when people say that I’m competitive because I argue over the answer in a quiz, they really haven’t been to many football matches.

It also showed that some people really do take the wearing of a Liverpool shirt in any game, even one to make money for charity, as a serious business. At the weekend, Liverpool’s Legends match against AC Milan’s all-star team consisted of such club luminaries as Bjorn Tore Kvarme, Salif Diao and Sander Westerveld, to say nothing of sixty-four-year-old Alan Kennedy lining up in defence and Ian Rush and John Aldridge, who are fifty-seven and sixty respectively, playing up-front for periods of the game. As for AC Milan, Cafu is forty-eight, Ambrosini is forty-one and Costacurta is fifty-two. In other words, these weren’t players in the prime of their career. Yet countless Liverpool supporters took to Twitter to say that Steven Gerrard could ‘still do a job for the Reds’ after he scored past forty-one-year-old Christian Abbiati at the weekend. It really begs the question, why are some supporters so disrespectful of our current midfield?

They Don’t Provide Enough Goals

The most obvious place to start is with their goals output. Here’s a look at the Liverpool midfield in the Premier League so far this season:

Player Minutes Goals Assists
Gini Wijnaldum 2246 2 0
Jordan Henderson 1438 0 0
James Milner 1617 4 4
Fabinho 1636 1 2
Adam Lallana 465 0 0
Xherdan Shaqiri 1017 6 2
Naby Keita 1079 0 1

All stats taken from the Who Scored player comparison tool.

In total, then, Liverpool’s midfield has contributed to twenty-two goals all season. That doesn’t compare all that favourably with the thirty-four goals that David Silva, Ilkay Gündogan and Bernado Silva alone have contributed to Manchester City’s tally so far this season. If the campaign comes down to goal difference and we miss out, which is likely considered Pep Guardiola’s side currently have six more goals than us and a game in hand, then fingers could be pointed towards the midfield contingent and questions asked of them.

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Yet is that fair? Jürgen Klopp has this team set up in such a manner that their first job is to protect the defence and their second is to enable the attackers to do what they do best. Scoring goals is third on the list of important things the manager expects from his midfield. Given that we’ve scored seventy compared to City’s seventy-nine you might want to say they aren’t doing the first well enough, though I’d suggest you’re being churlish. Especially considering we’ve conceded eighteen compared to City’s twenty-one. It’s about finding balance and the manager appears to have done an excellent job on that front.

But Goals Aren’t Everything

Goals matter, of course they do. If you never scored one during a season then you wouldn’t win a game, it’s that simple. Yet the Reds netted one hundred and one times in 2013-2014 but missed out on the title because of the ‘fifty’ goals that sat in the goals against column. More often than not we look solid at the back and dangerous going forward, which could yet see us lift the title over the most expensively assembled side in the history of the Premier League. As I write this, we’re top of the table by two points, though the Cityzens do have a game in hand. We’ve achieved our incredible run this season by offering that balance between defence and attack and by giving the front three room to do what it does best.

Peak Steven Gerrard was one of the best midfielders ever to play the game, not just for Liverpool but globally. He single-handedly dragged mediocre Liverpool teams to glory time and again during his career, earning the admiration of anyone who understand football and isn’t blinded by partisan allegiance. Yet the idea that the current player could make a difference in the middle of the park for Jürgen Klopp’s team is hugely offensive to a group of lads who have worked their season off all season long. The lack of goals will always be a fair stick that they can be beaten with, but it would be unfair in the extreme to say that they don’t do enough to deserve credit for our performances in the league. Here’s a quick look at Liverpool’s points tally for the past decade in the Premier League:

  • 2018-2019: 76 (after 31 games)
  • 2017-2018: 75
  • 2016-2017: 76
  • 2015-2016: 60
  • 2014-2015: 62
  • 2013-2014: 84
  • 2012-2013: 61
  • 2011-2012: 52
  • 2010-2011: 58
  • 2009-2010: 63

We currently have more points after thirty-one matches than we managed in total in all but two of the previous nine seasons. As I keep saying, whatever happens from here the Reds can be immensely proud of their season and those that keep doing down the midfield should take a broader look at exactly what it’s offering. As Sadio Mané, Mo Salah and Virgil van Dijk continue to take the plaudits, you can bet your bottom dollar that they know how much credit the midfielders deserve.

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