Assessing Our First Choice Midfield
Last Sunday’s point marked the end of a brutal run of fixtures for the Reds.
During that period, Liverpool faced the likes of Tottenham, PSG, Southampton, Chelsea, Napoli, and Manchester City. Having picked up eight points in the league to be joint leaders, it’s safe to say the team fared relatively well during this testing period.
However, there are some who will always find things to moan about. Whether unfairly or not, the Reds starting midfield has been the target of some criticism. With no club football this weekend, let us take the time to examine our midfield options to see if it is warranted.
Nobody could accuse our midfield of lacking tenacity. All three midfielders are workhorses, with James Milner the poster boy for effort. His 12.9 km distance covered against Tottenham was particularly eye-catching, and it goes to show how they work their socks off for each game.
With that much leg work in the engine department, those three players help Liverpool gain a degree of control in each game. Each do their fair share of defensive work, with Milner slightly edging his colleagues in terms of tackles and interceptions.
But while Milner is getting most of the praise (and deservedly so), Wijnaldum’s form shouldn’t be overlooked. Having played every minute in the league so far, his performance in the number six role has been so good that he has kept Fabinho out of the starting XI. As WhoScored.com has shown, he’s getting dribbled past a measly 0.3 times per game. Being tasked to screen Liverpool’s back four, this is a crucial part of Wijnaldum’s game which helps to make Liverpool tick. Coupled with well-timed runs to support the attack when necessary, it’s easy to see why he’s Klopp’s chosen one.
Fans can appreciate the amount of work put in by our midfielders; however, for every positive there’ll be a negative, and that’s certainly the case with regards to the trio.
A major criticism of our midfield is that it lacks creativity. Against opponents who are more organised, the Reds struggle to create many chances. The Napoli game was a prime example, where Liverpool managed only a single key pass.
Looking at the info-graphic courtesy of WhoScored, it’s hard to argue that Liverpool lack ideas in the middle. Milner is the only one of the three to be averaging more than one key pass per game. Now that’s not a problem when the front three are clicking, with the Reds currently ranked sixth in Europe for key passes per game. But when they’ve an off-day, which we’ve experienced a couple of times already this season, the midfield becomes a glaring weakness.
Besides creativity, the lack of goals is another cause for concern. With only two goals from midfield to show for 1, 699 combined minutes, and both coming from set-pieces, it strains the forward line even more. And with our forwards not at their usual best so far, the midfield has to start contributing to the goal tally sooner rather than later.
And finally, there’s the type of passes involved. Jordan Henderson particularly has been criticised for passing the ball backwards or sideways more often than not. While I personally think that’s been exaggerated, there’s a basis for that frustration. Too often did the captain elect for a safe pass when Liverpool were in need of that killer ball.
But like I said, the captain doesn’t deserve the amount of stick. Having had 80% of his passes being forward ones last season, it shows that he can be much more positive in his approach – which is why there’s hope that he’ll play much more aggressive passes as the season progresses.
Having gone through the pros and cons of our midfield, it’s considerably better than some would have us think. Yes, it lacks creativity, but there are ways to negate that weakness. Shaqiri’s game against Southampton is proof that Klopp has someone to turn to for creativity. Besides, why moan incessantly when the Reds have already done well up until this point?