Liverpool FC: Great club but not a great midfield
In the last 24 matches between Liverpool FC and Man City, Jurgen Klopp has masterminded ten wins while Pep Guardiola has won eight. When it comes to trophies, Man City is a different beast all together. They’ve won four out of the last five premier league titles, with Liverpool winning the premier league title just once in that time. So what exactly is Liverpool’s problem and why hasn’t Jurgen Klopp solved it?
Historically Klopp prefers having an engine room in his midfield that will run and press the ball for 90 mins. He utilises a high defensive line, which complements his midfield because they win the ball high up the pitch. While he deploys a 433 formation on paper, in reality he plays a 343 formation with his defensive midfielder dropping into defence whenever his wing backs go forward to attack, which by the way is every time. Majority of Liverpool’s attacks don’t come from their midfield it comes from their wing backs. Making them a very predictable team that is almost still impossible to stop.
On the other hand, Pep Guardiola loves utilising a creative midfield which scores goals and breaks down defences with flare and attrition. Man City has one of the most balanced, and yet, creative midfields in the premier league. Making them very dangerous and unpredictable.
In the 21/22 season, Man City played predominantly with a false nine even though they had a striker in the person of Gabriel Jesus. Their top goal scorer was Kevin De Bruyne, a midfielder with the passing finesse of Steven Gerrard and the goal scoring feats of Frank Lampard. This only reinforced the fact that Man City strength lies in their midfield. A fact which Pep knew could be used against them as a weakness. So what did Pep do? He bought a world class striker to replace the goals they lost from the retired Sergio Aguero.
Liverpool is almost the exact opposite of Man City in terms of strengths and weaknesses. Everyone knows that more than 90% of Liverpool’s assists comes from their wing backs. Everyone also knows that Liverpool lack creativity in their midfield.
Even when Jurgen Klopp had a world class creative midfielder in the likes of Coutinho, he played him as a winger. Most recently, Liverpool procured the services of Fabio Carvalho, a goal scoring, box to box, creative midfielder. But every time Klopp brings him on from the bench, he starts him as a winger and one of the front three. Liverpool’s striker Firmino rarely scores goals, yet he plays as a number 9. Again, when he came to Liverpool, he was an attacking midfielder but over time Klopp turned him into a false nine.
Liverpool’s main problem has always been their midfield and they still haven’t replaced Steven Gerrard or Xavi Alonso, since both players left decades ago. Jordan Henderson was never the creative type, but he stayed in Liverpool’s first 11 because of his energetic runs and he is a decent passer of the ball.
Klopp tried to shake it up a little by bringing in Naby Keita and Thiago Alcântara, both of which injected some creativity into the midfield but not the goals or the legs needed. Keita is constantly in and out of the first team with injuries. The same goes for Thiago who turned 31 years of age in April 2022.
Jordan Henderson is 32 years old, James Milner is 36 years old and Fabinho is 28. These are not exactly midfielders in the prime of their youth, nor are they machines. Reduced speed and slower reaction time are all the things that come with age and it is beginning to rare its ugly head in Liverpool’s midfield.
Their first game of the 22/23 season clearly showed that Liverpool’s midfield were not operating at their peak. A younger Fulham FC midfield ran them riot at the centre of the park. This was a few days after they had just beaten Man City, which shows you how quickly Liverpool’s midfield fell prey to fatigue, especially since Liverpool played every possible game last season. Least we forget Thiago came off injured yet again.
Liverpool’s second game of the 22/23 Premier League season was against Crystal Palace, and once more shone light on their midfield problems, and over game play. They tried to play to Darwin Nunez strength and honestly should have won if Nunez took his chances. Still, Klopp relied on his wing backs to create chances instead of his midfield. Trent did just that but Andrew Robertson didn’t. Robertson seemed to focus on his defensive duties and was taken off by Klopp for Kostas Tsimikas. Now if this was Man City, Pep would be bringing on another attacking midfielder. He might even take a defender off.
Klopp knows why Liverpool are falling short when it comes to premier league titles. He knows that he needs to start playing midfielders like Fabio Carvalho, Harvey Elliot, Curtis Jones and Naby Kieta, if they can keep him fit.
Personally, I think Liverpool should sell Chamberlin, Naby Keita and Henderson. Then buy a single world class midfielder that can score goals. Harvey Elliot definitely did not deserve the new contract he received. He has potential but is constantly injured.
Lastly, while I love Liverpool’s high defensive line, they are getting caught out too often. When Van Dijk partnered Gomez, a high line formation made sense. Matip doesn’t have the legs to be running back towards his own goal. Konate and Van Dijk might be a better partnership but Konate seems to have a lot of injuries, making him another unreliable player with potential.
Will Liverpool win the 22/23 Premier League title? It’s highly unlikely with all their injuries, but anything is possible. We will keep on rooting for Liverpool FC, and we hope Jurgen Klopp learns from his mistakes.
He needs to stop playing a high defensive line against all football teams. Instead he should adapt his game play when necessary, and buy one or two world class creative midfielders who can control games, create chances and score goals.