Tuesday, July 16, 2024

How is Jurgen Klopp's new-look Liverpool midfield shaping up? – Sky Sports


Alexis Mac Allister, Dominik Szoboszlai, Wataru Endo and Ryan Gravenberch were signed to strengthen Liverpool’s midfield last summer; follow Liverpool vs Everton via our live min-by-min blog from 11am on Saturday and watch highlights from 5.15pm on both the Sky Sports app and website
Football journalist
Saturday 21 October 2023 13:36, UK
It was the question on every Liverpool fan’s lips heading into the summer transfer window – how different would the makeup of the club’s midfield be at start of the 2023/24 season after what can only be described as a testing campaign for Jurgen Klopp’s side last time out.
Despite a late resurgence, it was too little, too late as Liverpool could only muster a fifth-place Premier League finish come May, the first time Klopp had failed to guide the Reds into the Champions League in his seven full seasons in charge at Anfield.
One of the chief factors behind the club’s difficult league campaign, which saw them lose nine times, was their misfiring midfield which along with the rise of inflation, was one of the most-discussed topics in the country at the time.
Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

How could the midfield trio of captain Jordan Henderson, Spain pass master Thiago Alcantara and No 6 Fabinho go from coming close to a Quadruple just months before, to being bypassed with ease by the likes of Wolves, Brighton, Brentford and relegated Leeds?
A principal reason was simply the exertions the team went through in playing 63 matches in 2021/22 as they finished a point behind champions Man City and made it to every final, winning both the Carabao and FA Cup in the process.
However, looking back now, and even though he bristles at the suggestion, it appears Klopp may have been too loyal to players who had served him and the club so well for so long, although he has claimed he always knew that team would need to be broken up and rebuilt at some point.
“I’m not sure [the squad transition] is the biggest challenge, but it’s a challenge,” Klopp told Michael Calvin’s Football People podcast.
Premier League table
Liverpool fixtures
Get Sky Sports
Download the Sky Sports App
“It was one of the main reasons why I signed a new contract, because I knew it’s necessary. It will not go overnight.”
Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

And while no one at Anfield expected an “overnight” transformation, the initial signs are promising – albeit from a small sample size of just eight games of the 2023/24 season – helped in no small part by the arrival of midfield duo Alexis MacAllister and Dominik Szoboszlai for just £35m and £60m respectively early last summer.
Heading into this season, though, the duo were expected to form the basis of the Reds’ midfield alongside the previous campaign’s first-choice starters Thiago, Henderson and Fabinho – that is until the Saudi Pro League came calling for the latter two in August to leave a giant hole at the base of the club’s midfield.
New sporting director Jorg Schmadtke made unsuccessful last-ditch attempts to poach Moises Caicedo and Romeo Lavia from under Chelsea’s noses, resulting in a scramble to sign Japan holding midfielder Wataru Endo from Stuttgart for £16.2m in what were far from ideal preparations for the new campaign.
But those understandable fears were soon eased as Liverpool, and in particular its new-look midfield, made an encouraging start to the season, going unbeaten until a controversial loss at Tottenham in late September.
Among those to immediately catch the eye was Szoboszlai, signed from RB Leipzig in July, but who has taken no time at all to acclimatise to life on Merseyside, so much so that the Hungary skipper is already a firm favourite on the Kop given his robust, all-action playing style.
It helps, no doubt, when you are capable of scoring long-range piledrivers, as the 22-year-old managed at home to Aston Villa and Leicester City, the latter a goal-of-the-season contender already.
Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

However, Szoboszlai’s ability to score from distance means Klopp should be able to rely on a regular supply of goals from midfield for the first time really since Philippe Coutinho left for Barcelona in January 2018.
Klopp’s Liverpool team of 2015-18 shared many similarities to the current version in that they were easy on the eye, free-flowing and high-scoring, but at the same time often unable to keep clean sheets.
Games would often resemble basketball matches, with goals aplenty from midfield, a feature of the side that began to dry up as Klopp’s champion team of 2018-20 began to take shape with the transformative arrivals of Virgil van Dijk, Alison Becker and Fabinho.
The trophies started to arrive on the back of an avalanche of goals from the famed front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, but also built on the bedrock of a seemingly never-ending run of shutouts.
Now, though, Liverpool 2.0 appear to have returned to those swashbuckling early days of Klopp’s reign and as well as Szoboszlai, fellow new signings Mac Allister and Ryan Gravenberch, along with Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott, can be expected to contribute goals in what is a real positive of the club’s new-look midfield.
Jones’ continued impressive form on the left of the midfield three is another boost for Klopp, with many predicting despite a sustained run in the team towards the end of the previous campaign, the 22-year-old would lose his first-team spot this season after all the midfield arrivals last summer.
Klopp, though, kept faith with Jones, who scored the winner for England in last summer’s European U21 championship final against Spain, with the boy from Toxteth even captaining the team against Leicester in the Carabao Cup – that is until his recent sending-off at Spurs created a new opening in midfield alongside Szoboszlai and Mac Allister.
Not everything has gone according to plan, however, with Fabinho’s unexpected departure to Saudi Arabia in July leaving a large hole to be filled in front of the Reds’ back four.
Liverpool initially tried to sign Caicedo, then Lavia, to plug the gap, before having to settle for Endo – but with so little time to get up to speed before the new season got under way, Klopp has so far opted to utilise the versatile Mac Allister as a holding midfielder in the Premier League, while the Japan international is given runouts in Europe and the League Cup.
“We didn’t even look for his best position yet. We just use him,” said the Liverpool boss of Mac Allister.
“He is a fantastic player, I love everything about him: super-smart tactically and off the pitch as well, so that is really nice to work with.
Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

“If we as a team defend well, he can play definitely the No 6. Did I know that before? I had a guess but I was not sure because I did not know exactly how all the other boys would do defending.
“Because we defend more compact and better than in our bad phases last year, we have small spaces and then it is really good because he sees the situations really well.
Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

“We have a really good footballer and it is really cool but best position? He is too young for me to know it, but he is a midfielder, I can tell you that. He is a midfielder and I am happy about having him.”
However, playing the Argentina World Cup winner in such a deep-lying role can only be a temporary sticky-plaster solution for now, and not the long-term answer to finding Fabinho’s eventual successor.
Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

For one thing, Mac Allister can affect the game far more when playing closer to the opposition goal as he did under Roberto De Zerbi at Brighton, and as witnessed when his delicious lofted pass recently created a goal for Darwin Nunez against West Ham United.
But perhaps more importantly, the 24-year-old just does not have the required attributes to make a success of being a No 6, as seen in Liverpool’s 2-2 draw at Brighton before the international break when his lack of pace and inability to smell danger were there for all to see.
Without an effective holding midfielder to put out fires in front of the back four, Liverpool’s at times ageing centre backs can get badly exposed.
“That man Mac Allister, that was probably a little bit more evidence that he is probably not suited to the role he is in,” said Jamie Carragher on commentary after the midfielder was skinned by Brighton’s Solly March, before being forced to haul his opponent down just outside the box to stop a dangerous-looking counterattack.
“That will change eventually, there is no doubt. Plenty of quality on the ball, but he was bypassed far too easily,” added the former Liverpool captain.
It could even change as early as Saturday’s Merseyside derby when Klopp again needs to find a replacement for the suspended Jones in midfield, which may open up a chance for Endo to start as a No 6, with Mac Allister pushed further forward to the left of Szoboszlai.
The average number of player pressures has increased every season for the past three campaigns, suggesting opponents are now playing Liverpool at their own game.

No team averaged more than 182 pressures per game (Leeds) when pressing records began in 2021/22. Last season, Leeds and Southampton surpassed an average of 200 per game. This season, Newcastle, Burnley, Bournemouth, Everton and Luton have all exceeded 200.

Liverpool are recording 199.5 per game this term, ranking sixth in the league – but it is still their highest ratio on record. They also rank sixth for pressures in the final third, seventh in the middle third and 10th in their own third.

Opponents rarely give Liverpool time to breathe on the ball, but Jurgen Klopp’s side have always tended to play through the press – ranking in the top four for making forward passes under pressure in three successive seasons.
That midfield makeup, with Mac Allister and Szoboszlai both playing ahead of a defensive midfielder, is probably how Klopp ideally sees the composition of his team going forward.
Liverpool’s most recent league outing to the south coast, however, was perhaps the best indicator of how that department of the team has been functioning so far this campaign, with the Amex being the scene of one of their most chastening defeats last season.
Klopp said of the 3-0 reverse in January when his midfield, and the team as a whole, were completely overrun: “I can’t remember a worse game, not only Liverpool. I really can’t. This is a really low point.”
So while there were still worrying signs for Klopp in the number of first-half chances the hosts made and how easily the Reds’ midfield was bypassed a times, it was also a positive that Klopp’s famed ‘Gegenpress’, which for various reasons went AWOL last season, is clearly working again how he wants it, as seen with the visitors’ two goals at the Amex.
Either way, the Liverpool midfield 2.0 is already helping fans forget the pain of the previous campaign…
Correctly predict six scorelines to win £250,000 for free with Super 6. Entries by 3pm Saturday.
© 2023 Sky UK


Leave a Response