Tuesday 21 May 2019

Midfield options a real boost for Reds' title hopes

Clever Klopp deals building stength-in-depth at Anfield

Liverpool's Georginio Wijnaldum (L) gathers possession from West Ham United's Jack Wilshere during their Premier League clash at the weekend. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Liverpool's Georginio Wijnaldum (L) gathers possession from West Ham United's Jack Wilshere during their Premier League clash at the weekend. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Simon Hughes

When every player expected to be available for Liverpool this season is fit and free of suspension, Jurgen Klopp will have three midfield options at his disposal.

There is the one that started on Sunday, which was made up of Naby Keita, James Milner and Georginio Wijnaldum.

There is another that featured on the bench - Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana and Fabinho.

And with Klopp believing that Xherdan Shaqiri can play as a number 8, there is also the Switzerland international, Curtis Jones and Marko Grujic to consider, though Grujic might leave on loan to a foreign club in the next few weeks.

Inside the club, it is also believed that Trent Alexander-Arnold will evolve from full-back and into midfield.

Continuing

And that's all without Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who is continuing his long road back from injury.

This time last year, Klopp was recruiting Oxlade-Chamberlain to go with Emre Can and Philippe Coutinho - both of whom have since left for Juventus and Barcelona respectively.

Effectively, then, a combination of Keita and Shaqiri have been signed to make up for the loss of Coutinho, Fabinho has replaced Can, and Lallana - who was injured for most of the last campaign - makes up for the loss of Oxlade-Chamberlain.

It is fair to conclude that Liverpool's chances of beating Real Madrid in May's Champions League final would have increased with Coutinho's presence, so maybe Liverpool did end up missing him when it really mattered but by then - such had been the team's unlikely achievements - his absence did not feature much in cold analysis.

Klopp and Liverpool have, however, since been criticised for not pursuing other targets after a deal for Nabil Fekir collapsed.

Yet Klopp had recognised last summer that Coutinho would more than likely leave and this explains why he was willing to pay a premium to get Keita so far in advance of his arrival.

It is possible that Klopp could have signed Fekir and Shaqiri in the same week back at the start of June but, when it became clear that Fekir was not coming, he remained calm having done his research on Shaqiri.

Andreas Kornmayer, Liverpool's head of fitness, had previously worked at Bayern Munich for 15 years and for two and a half of those years, Shaqiri was there too.

While Liverpool's scouting department assessed that Shaqiri deserved better recognition for the decisiveness of his passing before concluding that his explosive shooting ability will see him score the sort of goals the Reds will need from distance when opposition defences sit deep, Kornmayer offered reassurances about the player's character.

In signing Shaqiri, Klopp realised he was getting someone whose personality and ability would ensure his heralded front three don't ease up while also giving added flexibility to his midfield.

In the midst of this, it was suggested by Turkish media outlets that Wijnaldum might be sold to Fenerbahce, who had just appointed Phillip Cocu as manager - someone who coached Wijnaldum at PSV Eindhoven where they won the Eredivisie together.

Outstanding

Wijnaldum, though, is valued by Klopp more than many might think. While Keita and Milner were widely credited for outstanding performances in the crushing victory over West Ham, the first player Klopp embraced at the final whistle was Wijnaldum.

The Dutchman is a respected figure at Anfield - not only for his versatility and consistency but his intelligence.

"I don't know who put it in the media but it wasn't me," Wijnaldum responded when it was suggested to him that it would be a strange time to leave Liverpool considering the possibilities.

"People from the outside just see Liverpool is buying players, so players who are already here are going to leave.

"Liverpool will always buy good players, even if they already have good players. That's normal. I think it has to be normal for a club like Liverpool because that means you're a big club." (© Independent News Service)

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