Sometimes in football, quality and reliability can be hidden in plain site. In the modern era of stellar match winners dolling out classy flicks and tricks to the social media generation, the grafters are often overlooked and under appreciated for their work. Jurgen Klopp’s tittle challenging Liverpool side is not immune from this facet of the game.
There has been a lot of noise this season from some in the Reds’ fan base calling for the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita to feature more prominently. In the run up to their victory over Manchester City, there was wide-spread speculation and hope that Klopp would jettison one of Jordan Henderson, Fabinho or Gini Wijnaldum in order to crowbar in Oxlade-Chamberlain after some eye-catching displays from the England international in the Champions League.
The attraction is understandable. Midfield match-winners with an eye for the spectacular have always been popular on Merseyside. However, any fan hoping and waiting, sometimes rather impatiently, for the more blockbuster midfielders to break into contention for Liverpool’s most important games have seriously misunderstood Klopp’s methodology. The German’s faith in the aforementioned midfield trio is resolute and with very good reason.
While the critics and former pros drooled over Liverpool’s midfield pressing unit during their win over Man City, they certainly should not have been surprised by the performance and accompanying work rate. Henderson, Fabinho and Wijnaldum have become Klopp’s go-to selection in key fixtures and their display against their Premier League title rivals highlights why they are so trusted by the German.
That trio is the beating heart of Klopp’s high pressing system and are the great enablers for this Liverpool side. Tucking in while their full-back colleagues bomb forward, they provide a base and all-important cover to prevent their side from being overloaded on the counter-attack.
Against City, Wijnaldum made seven ball recoveries whilst also completing 97% of his passes. Such well rounded, hard grafting stats show just how dynamic the three midfielders need to be in order for Klopp’s system to flourish. Collectively this season, they have already clocked up 34 interceptions, 60 successful tackles and 135 victorious midfield duels.
This high energy, selfless play gives Liverpool a midfield foundation to build on in in matches. To beat Klopp’s men you must outfight them as well as outplay them and with three stalwarts in midfield who are dedicated fully to their manager’s methods, it is clear why this has become such a gargantuan task.
It is also clear why the likes of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Keita must continue to wait patiently for their chance to earn their manager’s good faith. Both players have been plagued by injuries which would hinder the career progression of any footballer and this goes someway to explaining why they remain second fiddle to Klopp’s established midfield core.
Yes, both players can be considered far more attacking options than any of their aforementioned teammates. However, this also tips the balance against them as things currently stand. To flourish in the current Liverpool midfield requires a certain curbing of attacking enthusiasm.
Yes you need line breakers from that second three to help overwhelm deep sitting defences, but if Oxlade-Chamberlain or Keita were too over zealous in their attacking endeavours it may well cause an overall break down in the side’s ruthless efficiency as a tactical unit.
If the full-backs are committed further down the pitch and a counter-attack is sprung, Klopp can rest assured that his three trusted midfield generals will fall into line and plug the gaps in the wide areas. Whether he trusts Oxlade-Chamberlain or Keita to do likewise remains to be seen, but is fairly ominous by the pair’s frequent omissions in big matches.
Both players may well be being managed in order to aide their recovery after a rocky road back to full fitness, but as things stand, with the Reds so well oiled in midfield, those frustrated fans are going to have to wait a hell of a lot longer before seeing their more flamboyant favourites thrust into the starting lineup.