It’s been a busy transfer window so far for Liverpool with a number of exciting new midfield options being added to Jurgen Klopp’s squad.
However, along with the arrivals of Fabinho, Naby Keita and Xherdan Shaqiri there has also been some setbacks with the confirmation of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s season ending injury and the non-arrival of Nabil Fekir from Lyon.
Long time want-away midfielder Emre Can has finally left for Juventus in Serie A with new team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo. So you could say it’s three in and three out.
The back four and front three are pretty set for the Reds: Trent Alexander-Arnold, Virgil Van Dijk, Dejan Lovren and Andrew Robertson at the back and Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and of course Mohamed Salah up front.
But in the middle of the park the German has some hard questions to answer. What is his best midfield combination – and formation – ahead of the new season?
First we look at Klopp’s options then how he could make them work.
Signed in mid-2017 but only just arrived on Merseyside, Keita has looked as good in pre-season as Klopp could have hoped. Strong in the tackle with excellent link-up play and the close ball control to be dangerous around the opposing box – the Guinea international could be the missing part of the Liverpool puzzle.
The £43.7 million signing from Monaco is settling in nicely at Anfield with Klopp so far using him in a holding role in front of the back four. Like Keita the Brazilian looks solid in the tackle and has a calmness and composure which Liverpool have been missing. Not as impressive picking out key passes or surging forward but this is not what he was bought to do.
No one gives more for the cause than the Reds captain. An excellent ball winner in the middle of the park when on form Henderson can also be a great distributor to his forward men. Comments are often made about his “engine” and the England man will literally bust a gut tracking back tirelessly over 90 minutes.
An option also for the front or middle three, the 30-year-old seems to be destined for the latter this season. After a horror-run with injuries Lallana is slowly working his way back to peak form and fitness, which he seems a little way off yet. At his best Lallana is among the Reds most creative midfield options.
Always popular with the Liverpool faithful, the selfless Milner is happy to slot in wherever required – whether it’s a holding role, a position out on the flanks or a roving commission. The 32-year-old, like Henderson, is a tireless worker but also prone to mistakes which can gift a goal to the opposition. Has looked a little off the pace in pre-season.
The Dutchman can blow hot and cold for the Reds, often dominating in the middle of the park with some deft assists and telling tackles but at other times he can go missing – simply being barged out of the match by more committed opponents. Wijnaldum is definitely more suited to an box-to-box midfield role rather than a holding role.
Some might be surprised to see the injury-prone striker included in this list but retreading Sturridge in a deeper lying role seems to be something Klopp is trying in pre-season. Sturridge knows he is not going to displace any of the front three but with no Fekir, Philippe Coutinho or Oxlade-Chamberlain perhaps there is a midfield playmaker role available.
The Wales youngster began his career at Liverpool as a natural wideman but in pre-season Klopp has used him almost exclusively in a midfield role. The 18-year-old is taking a while to adapt to this new position and has gone missing for long periods in matches. Woodburn is freakishly talented but the best of him may not be seen in the middle of the park.
It’s academic to include the 22-year-old Serbian as reports suggest that he will probably continue his development at newly promoted Cardiff City. But Klopp spoke very highly about the young midfielder after his 45 minutes against Manchester City so perhaps he will stay at the club for at least the first half of the season.
The newest member of the Liverpool midfield, the Swiss marksmen can either slot in out wide, in the middle of the park or the front three. Shaqiri will be fighting for a starting role, in the mold of Reds great Dirk Kuyt, but most likely Klopp will use him as an impact player coming off the bench if the Merseysider’s need a goal late in the match.
FORMATION ONE: 4-3-3
This is the most likely and Klopp’s choice for last year. It has served him very well throughout his managerial career – and did the same for the Reds in 2017-18.
The question is – which of his menage of midfielders does he use?
Captain Henderson will be at risk as his role as the deepest-lying midfield player will be challenged by the excellent Fabinho.
Keita, who Klopp has spoken about as a No6, 8 or 10 will definitely slot in, most probably at No8, which will leave one or both of Wijnaldum and Milner on the sidelines.
The question then is what happens to Lallana? He is slowly coming back to full fitness but can he force his way into this formation.
POSSIBLE COMBINATION: If Klopp is in a defensive mood he might go Henderson, Keita, Fabinho/Milner – if he is more attack minded he could go Henderson, Keita, Lallana/Wijnaldum. Either way Henderson and Keita start.
FORMATION TWO: 4-2-3-1
There has been a lot of talk Klopp will abandon his favoured 4-3-3 and adopt a formation which suits his squad better – 4-2-3-1.
This would enable Klopp to play with four forwards, in the much-loved diamond formation, and keep two defensive midfielders in a holding position in front of the back four.
He used this to very good effect on the final day of last season against Brighton, which may point to the future.
Keita/Milner and Fabinho/Henderson would form the formidable duo at the base of midfield, with Lallana or new arrival Shaqiri or even the resurgent Daniel Sturridge slotting into the No10 role behind Firmino.
Firmino himself could also occupy that No10 position, allowing Shaqiri to move into a wide position with Salah pushing forward though Klopp seems to prefer the Brazilian at No9.
This formation is tempting as it is very fluid and will be hard to defend against – and allows Klopp to rotate through many different personnel options.
It would also open up the possibility of Shaqiri or Sturridge slotting into the rotating front four late in the game.
The only danger here is a smart opponent could surround Keita and Fabinho cutting off supply to the front four.
POSSIBLE COMBINATION: This seems perfectly suited to making use of Fabinho – so the line-up would be Fabinho and Keita/Henderson in the defensive screen while Lallana or Keita or Wijnaldum would slot in the No10 role.
FORMATION THREE: 4-4-2
This would be a total surprise if the innovative Klopp rolled out a good old fashioned 4-4-2 – but it’s not impossible with the players he has at his disposal.
Salah and Firmino would be left as the front two with Keita and Henderson/Fabinho in the middle of the midfield quartet. Then on the wings would be Mane and most probably Shaqiri.
POSSIBLE COMBINATION: It’s probably the least likely of the three but Klopp may use it if he wants to get Shaqiri into the starting XI as he and Woodburn are really the only options equipped to play the wide role.
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