Graham Ruthven: When are Liverpool’s midfield going to finally get some credit?

They’ve been bloody brilliant!


Three games, three wins. Not that a Liverpool side that won all of their final nine Premier League fixtures last season would expect anything less.

Jurgen Klopp has built a team of stone-cold winners and so nine points from nine to start the season is just another mark of the mentality he has instilled at Anfield.

Indeed, the 2019/20 Premier League campaign is only three weeks old, but it already feels like a sprint to the finish between Liverpool and Manchester City. Both teams have impressed early on, but from the Reds’ perspective, their dismantling of Arsenal on Saturday served their greatest statement of intent so far.

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Yet even after such an impressive performance Liverpool’s midfield still came in for criticism. The Anfield side registered 25 shots to Arsenal’s nine, claiming the majority share of possession and dominating from start to finish, but in the mind of some their men in the middle still didn’t perform.

Fabinho is the only midfielder currently at Anfield who can be certain of his place in the starting lineup.

The other two places are up for grabs.

Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum started alongside the Brazilian in the win over Arsenal, while James Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain started against Southampton the week before.

Naby Keita also came off the bench in the Community Shield to prove some creativity.

Klopp has options, but for some reason Liverpool’s midfield is still perceived to be their weakness.

The one area where opposing sides can expose them. So why then have Liverpool proved to be so unbeatable over the past season or so, particularly over the past six months?

If their midfield is so weak, why hasn’t it harmed the Reds?

Part of the reason Liverpool’s midfielders don’t get the credit they deserve is because there is no one philosophy that binds them together.

While Pep Guardiola demands that his central operators play in a defined, uniform way, Klopp wants something different from each of his three men in the middle. Defining what makes a Liverpool midfielder isn’t as easy.

It’s true that Liverpool don’t boast a midfielder as accomplished as Kevin De Bruyne. They don’t have someone who can pick a pass like the Belgian can, nor do they have a driving force who can move the ball 40 yards up the pitch in a matter of seconds like Paul Pogba can (at least with Oxlade-Chamberlain still looking for full fitness).

But, neither of those players would fit into Klopp’s Liverpool team anyway.

Any criticism of the Reds’ midfield fails to recognise this. Klopp is a much better tactician than he is widely given credit for.

Often depicted as a fist-pumping, gurning caricature of himself, the German has very deliberately pieced together Liverpool’s central unit in their current form. It’s the engine that drives them as a team.

Jurgen Klopp Liverpool Champions League Final

Liverpool’s midfield might not be of much interest to fantasy football managers who look for the same players to be fielded game after game, but that’s because Klopp sees that area of his team as something of a footballing Swiss Army Knife.

He has a tool for every task, whether that be the workmanlike attitude of Milner, the industry of Henderson, the invention of Keita, the goal threat of Wijnaldum or the driving runs of Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Some may see Klopp’s constant chopping and changing of his midfield as a sign of weakness, but it is actually an illustration of their strength.

Liverpool’s midfield is grossly misunderstood, even by the club’s own supporters, but Klopp knows exactly what his players in the centre offer him. It’s about time others saw it too.

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