Liverpool: Fekir failure leaves Klopp with midfield conundrum
Jurgen Klopp has a wealth of midfield options going into the new season but picking one may prove to be tricky.
Action Images via Reuters/Carl Recine
As the likes of Manchester United, Everton and Tottenham Hotspur dashed around looking to pull off one final deal on Deadline Day, Liverpool were quiet.
Their work had been done well in advance, with Alisson, Fabinho and Xherdan Shaqiri purchased to join Naby Keita in completing a move to Anfield this summer.
There was one name left un-ticked on the Reds’ list of targets: Jurgen Klopp’s pursuit of Nabil Fekir was well documented, as was the hasty decision to pull out of the deal after complications regarding Fekir’s knee.
Liverpool fans, excited to see Fekir line up alongside other new midfielders Fabinho and Naby Keita, were left disappointed — even more so after the club opted not to bring in an alternative target.
Still, with Georginio Wijnaldum, James Milner, Adam Lallana and club captain Jordan Henderson all fit and available, Klopp has a wealth of options at his disposal for the upcoming months.
The question is, who does he prefer?
A change of thinking required
Whilst Klopp will have had his plans for the season in place for some time now, a re-think in midfield became unavoidable when the Fekir deal fell through.
The 4-3-3 formation has been used almost exclusively by the German since taking charge at Anfield in 2015 with a single pivot deployed at the base of his midfield last season.
Fabinho’s arrival from AS Monaco just 48 hours after the Champions League final came out of the blue. By contrast, Naby Keita waited for a year to join the club from RB Leipzig.
Barring a surprise change in formation, it’s assumed that Fabinho will occupy the number six role held by Henderson last season with Keita slightly ahead. Fekir would have completed an exciting new triumvirate.
Room for the captain?
With Fabinho, Keita and nearly Fekir flying through the door, you’d have forgiven Jordan Henderson for wondering what piece he’ll make up in Liverpool’s midfield jigsaw puzzle going forward.
The Fekir failure offered some breathing room for the Liverpool skipper, who will surely play a big role throughout the campaign. Whether he starts regularly remains to be seen.
With his status as the single pivot potentially gone, Henderson could look for minutes ahead of Fabinho as the eight — a position he’s scarcely played for Klopp.
That would mean moving Keita into a more advanced position and risking not getting the best out of one of Europe’s finest midfielders.
KEY STAT: Henderson’s one goal last season is his lowest tally since signing for Liverpool
There’s always the option of a tactical change to introduce a double-pivoted 4-3-3 that uses Keita alone ahead but pre-season saw no such system used.
Whether Klopp would consider a deep-lying double pivot is also doubtful, given it would naturally decrease the number of bodies Liverpool can use to press. That could leave room for Milner, Wijnaldum or Lallana to take advantage.
Klopp to wish for goals from Gini?
Lallana may feel that he’s the most naturally suited to the role, having played there often in 2016/17 before an injury-hit campaign last time out.
However, his ageing years and injury prone body may leave Klopp looking elsewhere with James Milner another who could miss out on a weekly starting berth due to tiring legs.
KEY STAT: Adam Lallana has scored just once for Liverpool since the start of 2017
The ultra-attack minded Daniel Sturridge and Xherdan Shaqiri would viewed as gambles in the role, leaving Georginio Wijnaldum with an excellent opportunity to make the position his own – at least until Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain returns from injury.
Although he’s spent much of his Liverpool career in as one of the two deepest midfielders, many of the Dutchman’s earlier career was spent in an advanced midfield position.
Wijnaldum bagged double figures during his final season at PSV, mostly in a number ten role but occasionally deployed out wide. On top of this, he made a name for himself in England by scoring 11 league goals for a relegated Newcastle side in 2015-16.
Having got over his goalless run away from home against Roma in the Champions League, Wijnaldum’s technique, movement and pressing ability could make him a perfect candidate for a role which he’s played in during pre-season, scoring recently against Napoli and Torino.
With the likes of Keita, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino around him, there’s no reason that Wijnaldum can’t build upon the already impressive numbers he’s put in when used as the most advanced midfielder.
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