Midfield Rotation After the Nations League
A goalless share of the points between two of the Premier League’s most dangerous sides was perhaps not the result most fans expected, but nonetheless, it’s one that both managers were more than happy to accept.
“It is a very intense, an unbelievable challenge to face Manchester City always – I’ve said that before – and as the last game of an intense period, it makes the challenge even bigger, so I am really happy with what the boys did”, Jürgen Klopp declared in his post-match presser.
However, with James Milner unfortunately succumbing to a hamstring injury and the Nations League just around the corner, this raises some interesting questions about team selection when Liverpool return to Premier League action.
The New Boys
Considering the run of fixtures that Liverpool can look forward to following the international break, I think we can expect the likes of Naby Keita, Fabinho, and Xherdan Shaqiri to get more first-team minutes.
Particularly with Milner likely to miss the next two fixtures, against Huddersfield and Red Star Belgrade, it is a perfect opportunity for the ‘new boys’ to cement a place in the starting eleven.
Indeed, they only need look as far as Andy Robertson for inspiration, with the Scot having grasped his opportunity with both hands following Alberto Moreno’s injury lay-off last year.
Keita and Shaqiri are the most obvious choices to slot into the gap and, although the trio of Gini Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson, and Milner offers a steady supply of graft, there are some concerns about a lack of creativity.
Whilst we have only seen glimpses of Keita’s sheer drive, most notably in the opening fixture against West Ham, the former Red Bull Leipzig man provides a different option to that offered by Klopp’s chosen three.
After a back spasm forced Keita off the pitch at the Stadio San Paolo, Liverpool appeared to lose any kind of incisiveness in midfield. This ultimately contributed to the club’s deserved late demise, as Lorenzo Insigne slotted past Alisson Becker to ensure Napoli’s first win of the Champions League group stage.
That being said, Keita’s latest performance against City is indicative of the fact that the midfielder still needs time to fully adjust to the demands of Klopp’s system. We have yet to see the brilliant best of our £52 million signing, but we can rest assured that he will come good, in time.
Shaqiri, meanwhile, arguably offers the best solution to this dilemma, particularly in light of the Swiss international’s successful experimentation in the No.10 role against Southampton.
No disrespect to the likes of Huddersfield or Cardiff, but given the level of opposition to be faced after the international break, one could argue that Klopp would be entirely justified in trusting Shaqiri in his favoured role.
Statistically speaking, Shaqiri compares favourably with his fellow teammates in terms of key passes, according to WhoScored:
From top to bottom: Xherdan Shaqiri, Naby Keita, Gini Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson, and James Milner
Interestingly, Milner scores quite high in this regard, which presents something of a challenge for the new boys in his absence.
Being another big-money signing by Klopp at £43 million, Fabinho is the unlikely option to fill in Milner’s boots, or provide the creativity Liverpool so desperately crave. Rather, he is arguably more of a direct competitor for Wijnaldum. Given the latter’s renewed performances this season, the Brazilian has his work cut out for him to stake a more permanent role in the first team, but he’s likely to feature more prominently in the upcoming fixtures.
Nonetheless, it’s highly unlikely Klopp will opt to field all three together, but I think we can expect to see them actively rotated within the starting eleven more often than before.
Liverpool’s Forgotten Man
However, before we are too quick to judge who will get the nod from Klopp, it would be unfair to have any discussion about the midfield which didn’t involve a fit and firing Adam Lallana. Indeed, in light of Milner’s absence, the return of the former Southampton man will be a welcome one for the manager and fans alike.
Most importantly for Liverpool, and what, some may argue, puts him ahead of the aforementioned competition, Lallana has a complete understanding of how a Klopp team should function.
Whilst each showing moments of inspiration, (more so in Shaqiri’s case), the new boys have come under flak in not yet having adapted fully to Klopp’s demands.
Let’s not forget how integral Lallana once was to this Liverpool side, and to our beloved German in particular, often being the first to start a press. Given how much improved this Liverpool side is, it is certainly strange to think how much we once relied on the Englishman.
Nonetheless, much like Daniel Sturridge, if the club can manage to keep Lallana fit for the rest of the season, he is a more than viable option off the bench.
Go with the statistics and bet on Shaqiri? Or should another take Milner’s place? Have your say below.