With just three days till the start of the 2021/2022 season, we continue our look at the strength of the Liverpool squad to judge their readiness for all the challenges that lie ahead, in what promises to be another enthralling season. Where there are gaps, we will point out and suggest possible closures.

We’ve already taken a look at the goalkeepers and entire defence line, all articles you can find on this blog. Today, we look at the area generating a lot of conversation amongst Liverpool fans online. We look at the engine room; midfield, to assess if Jurgen Klopp has enough depth or not.

“The three in the middle for Liverpool, hunt for the ball like dogs.

Jurgen Klopp’s go to formation has been 4-3-3 for the past few years, with that setup bringing him a lot of success. He has dabbled with 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2 (diamond) and other variations at times but 4-3-3 has been his calling card ever since he got the front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané. His three midfielders are usually robust, energetic and maniacal in the press, to carry out his gegenpressing mantra.

Jordan Henderson has been a crucial part of Liverpool’s success

Klopp doesn’t truly use a number ten in this setup, always choosing to go 4-2-3-1 when he feels he wants more natural creativity from the middle of the pitch (as seen with Coutinho when he wasn’t on the left wing, and Shaqiri). Fabinho, Henderson and Wijnaldum were his ultimate trio. He won the Champions League final using that trio and whenever the big games rolled around over the last couple of years, his midfield selection was almost predictable.

He could trust them and they worked their socks off for him. They covered every blade of grass and did the thankless tasks so the wide players (Trent, Robertson, Mane and Salah) could get a platform to shine. James Milner has been another trusted solider throughout the years. Unfortunately though, Gini Wijnaldum has departed on a free this summer after the expiration of his contract and it looks like no replacement will be sought for in the transfer market.

Many wonder why Liverpool have so far chosen not to replace a man who played 51 games last season and was an ever present in his five years at the club. Could it be a similar case to the club choosing not to replace Dejan Lovren last summer? Most fans have been left puzzled so far by the inactivity in the transfer market. But dig a little deeper and you can perceive a method in Jurgen Klopp’s madness.

Will Liverpool miss Gini Wijnaldum?

The main reason why Liverpool are not dipping into the market for a midfielder is because they have a plethora of them on their books. Fabinho Tavares, Jordan Henderson, Thiago Alcantara, James Milner, Curtis Jones, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are all senior options for the position, and are ably backed by young trio Harvey Elliott, Leighton Clarkson and Ben Woodburn.

That’s ten in total for a position that takes only three at a time, and if Klopp is in the mood, two. On paper, Fabinho, Henderson and Thiago should be the new and improved first choice midfield trio. Holes can be punched in that idea though, because whereas Wijnaldum only missed two games across the last two seasons with injury, Fabinho (24), Henderson (26) and Thiago (31) missed a whopping 81 games combined.

Will they all of a sudden hit Gini levels of fitness? It is possible but highly unlikely. That is where the next set come in; Milner, Jones, Keita and Oxlade-Chamberlain. Veteran James Milner has spent all pre-season mastering the holding role. He can play across all three midfield roles, and has the fitness record to be banked on. There could be an argument to say, Liverpool had all these players last season but Gini still had to play 51 times as the others had injury ravaged seasons.

That would be slightly incorrect, as there were several occasions the trio of Jones, Keita and Oxlade-Chamberlain were unused substitutes. A grand total of 39 times according to transfermarkt. Not to mention Fabinho and Henderson played a combined 30 games at centre back last season due to the injury crisis in that department. With the signing of Konate (and development of Phillips and Rhys), that situation is unlikely to be repeated. 

There could be a question of quality too, in that, are Jones, Keita or Ox as good as Gini? They can be, is the realistic answer. They can be as good, if not better, with more regular game time under a manager like Klopp who is world renowned for refining talent. In captain Hendo, Jurgen has a man who is angry at the board’s stance on his new contract so would have something to prove. Fabinho just signed a new deal and stated a desire to become more of a leader for the side and at 27 is in his prime.

Thiago Alcantara, a world class controller, now has a year under his belt to stand him in good stead in settling in this team and this league. James Milner, the evergreen 35 year old, is available to plug gaps wherever they may be. Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, both in the last two years of their contracts needing to play for their future and Curtis Jones, who after making 34 appearances last season, has grown into a man and is ready to assume more responsibility.

Thiago Alcantara is set for a big season

All without mentioning the fearless young trio who are eager for an opportunity to show what they are made of, if this pre-season is anything to go by. 18 year old Harvey Elliott in particular, has impressed this summer after his fantastic loan spell with Blackburn Rovers. The 18 year old has been used in midfield and hasn’t looked out of place. Granted, pre-season friendlies are just glorified training sessions, it still bodes well. He is a like for like replacement for Xherdan Shaqiri it seems.

Clarkson (19) and Woodburn (21) have both had decent pre-seasons too and could get their opportunity should injuries strike. The trio have made a combined 23 appearances for the club so wouldn’t be coming in cold. They’ve been around the system for years now.  Of course all this is under the presumption that Xherdan Shaqiri departs. If that falls through, another option presents itself.

Young Harvey Elliott could be set for a big season

All in all, these are the decisions Jurgen has on his hands. It looks like there should be enough bodies in there to cover the Wijnaldum shaped hole but it could all go so wrong too. Personally, I feel they could get away without a midfield signing, provided they reinforce in attack instead. As with all things, time will surely tell.


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