In a season that has seen Liverpool spend much of the season either at the top of the Premier League table or just a few points away from the top position, there is still one talking point amongst the fans – what exactly is Liverpool’s best midfield?
Well, it definitely isn’t a simple answer. It depends on several things, of course you have to take away the biased opinions and remain objective when deciding which players you’d like to see in the starting XI come match day, which is what I’m going to try and do here. You also have to remember that the midfield could be, and should be adapted to fit our game plan versus our opponents.
It’s obviously worth remembering that no two teams play the exact same brand of football, some teams defend deep with a majority of their players behind the ball, whilst other teams are constantly on the front foot, some are even a mixture of both and wait to strike on the counter attack and so on, the stylistic intricacies of modern football is an entirely different conversation altogether.
It’s a given that minus any injuries Liverpool’s options to play in midfield are from the following: Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, James Milner, Georginio Wijnaldum, Naby Keita and Adam Lallana. It’s also worth noting that Xherdan Shaqiri can play in that role, but he is often used as a substitute to replace a player from the final third. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would also make it into Liverpool’s plans given he was fit, Adam Lallana is also rarely given the opportunity to prove his worth.
According to WhoScored.com, Liverpool’s top 3 performing midfielders in terms of tackles per 90 minutes are Fabinho (Rating – 6.99), James Milner (Rating – 7.2) and Naby Keita (Rating – 6.67). These statistics also highlight the number of successful tackles and the amount of times these players were dribbled past per 90 minutes. It’s incredibly difficult to argue these ratings as absolute, as it has taken both Fabinho and Naby Keita long periods of adjustment to finally show their true strengths in the midfield and gain Jurgen Klopp’s confidence to be played there in a number of games
These statistics show that James Milner completed 2.1 tackles per game, the same as Naby Keita, whilst Fabinho completed 2.7 tackles. Alongside this, the numbers also reveal the amount of times these players were dribbled past per 90 – with Naby Keita at 1.9, James Milner at 1.1 and Fabinho & Henderson at 1.1 and 0.9 respectively.
Interestingly enough, Wijnaldum is only dribbled past 0.4 times per 90, and makes 1.3 tackles to accompany this, which implies he is more than capable in a high intensity midfield such as Liverpool’s.
In regards to interceptions, which is a duty that most midfielders (both DM & CM) are expected to carry out, the statistics tell an interesting story – Milner registers 1.5 per 90, whilst Fabinho manages 1.2, Henderson 1.1, Keita 0.8 and Wijnaldum 0.5 interceptions.
It’s also important to remember that although these players often function as a midfield three, often in a 4-3-3 formation, (and sometimes in a 4-2-3-1) they will have varying roles according to their strengths and Jurgen Klopp will always demand they carry out different offensive and defensive duties. For example Fabinho will have much of a defensive role at DM, whereas Naby Keita will have much more freedom moving forward and will often play a vital role in transitioning the team from defensive play to attacking play.
As previously mentioned, it’s impossible to nail it down to three midfielders that are simply “the best” for Liverpool, as it entirely depends on the game plan and team they are facing. Think back to the midfield trio that helped Liverpool to a Champions League final last season – Henderson (DM) accompanied by Milner and Wijnaldum in slightly more advanced positions. Like they say, the proof is in the pudding – and that is a tried and tested combination in regards to performing in high pressure and intense games.
Ultimately, it is impossible to decide which players are the best to complete Jurgen Klopps midfield that must employ his “Heavy Metal Football”, and as previously mentioned, it entirely depends on the team Liverpool are facing and their style of football.
It is also about finding balance between defending and attack. If a midfield is too defensive minded then the players who are operating in the final third are going to lack service and not be able to score. But if a midfield is too attacking minded then there is the risk of leaving the defence too vulnerable and you face the risk of conceding, which as famous American Football coach Paul Bryant said “Offense sells tickets, defence wins championships.” And although this is spoken in regards to a different sport, the principle is still really relevant to modern football, just look at Liverpool’s defensive transition from a leaky defence to one of the best in Europe since the arrival of Virgil Van Dijk and the emergence of Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold.
It’s difficult to choose who the best players are for Liverpool’s midfield, but one thing is for sure – that the squad is well stocked and have the players to adapt to changing situations in games, with an engine like midfield consisting of Milner, Wijnaldum and Henderson. Whilst also being able to let Keita, Fabinho and one of the previous three loose on their opponents for a more balanced midfield too.
And that’s without Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the squad too; just wait until he returns from injury.