Liverpool face midfield conundrum, and Jürgen Klopp could be forced into transfer solution
For the past couple of years, the majority of Liverpool’s first-choice starting line-up has been fairly settled. It’s a key factor behind the club’s triumphs domestically and on the European stage, and one we shouldn’t take for granted.
Ever since Alisson Becker arrived from Roma two years ago, the goalkeeping department has been pretty much sorted. The only exception being when the Brazilian has been injured and second choice Adrián has been forced to step in and attempt to fill the void.
The back four has also been set in stone, pretty much, with full-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson establishing themselves as the best full-backs in world football for their ability to provide assists and support attacks. Then you get to the heart of the defence, and Virgil van Dijk has been the immovable object and has had support from Joe Gomez and Joel Matip as his centre-back partner.
And if you go up front that the trio of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané is pretty much envied by every single club across Europe. There is so much to like about this Liverpool team at the moment, but it feels like one area of the pitch is missing…
Midfield. What do you do with the midfield? It’s a question that Jürgen Klopp ponders every game, of course, but unlike the other areas of his team it’s not at all settled. There are often mass changes, or simply the odd tweak, with it being very rare that the same trio start in the middle of the part for a consecutive run of games.
If you were to ask people who their first choice midfielder would be, you would get a variety if answers. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the area of the pitch isn’t settled, of course, but the addition of Thiago Alcântara and the question mark over Gini Wijnaldum’s contract situation means selecting the trio is not as straightforward as it may have been in the past.
If you look at the options available in midfield as a whole, it could point to a possible overhaul next summer. Not just because of certain players reaching the end of their time at the club, but also the inevitability of some just getting older.
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With the exception of Curtis Jones and Naby Keïta, the rest of the first-team midfielders available to Klopp will all aged 27 or older come next summer. In particular, James Milner will be 35 and it remains to be seen how much longer he is able to compete week in, week out at the top level. Then there is Wijnaldum, who at 30 is looking more and more unlikely to be offered a new deal to keep him at Anfield. Just those two alone will be two less regularly selected midfielders unlikely to be available as often next season, if at all.
Captain Jordan Henderson still has a few years at the top level ahead of him, as do Fabinho, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Thiago, who will be looking to play a key role at Anfield for the seasons ahead. Even so, it is likely that midfield will need strengthening next summer, especially if Liverpool want to remain at the top level.
Who could those possible new midfielders be? Who knows. There is no doubting that if it’s an area of the pitch that Klopp wants to add new faces to, then the club’s scouting team will already have a list of possible targets lined up and ready to make a move for should the opportunity present itself.
Given the fact that Liverpool adopt a high-pressing, high-energy, in you face style, it is important to have players in the middle of the park who can perform at maximum capacity for the full 90 minutes. At the moment, the players currently at the club are capable of doing just that, but Klopp will know that all of them cannot perform at that level forever.
In terms of possible new faces, there has been growing talk among fans for the club to bring in Houssem Aouar from Lyon, while Rennes starlet Eduardo Camavinga was touted as a potential target throughout the summer. Whether any of these are genuine targets remains to be seen, but it cannot be denied that Liverpool’s scouting and recruitment teams know what they’re doing when it comes to judging new talent.
Just like with himself, the front three, and Virgil van Dijk, Klopp will be looking at a succession plan for the likes of Wijnaldum, Milner and Henderson. It seems likely that process will begin next summer, but it must be remembered that Jones is beginning his first season as a regular part of the senior squad, and will have hopes to keen on improving next season.
Should things go to plan, Liverpool will be active in the transfer market and could well strengthen their midfield options as part of a new beginning at Anfield. This is not to say that Klopp will go and splash hundreds of millions of pounds on three or four players, but next summer could be the start of a the evolution of the midfield, which continues to search for its settled formula.