Melissa Reddy on Liverpool’s midfield issues: Is the transfer window the solution or something else?
In the build-up to equalling the Premier League record for the biggest-ever victory, Jurgen Klopp had admitted his public stance on not needing to solve Liverpool’s midfield issues in the transfer market was incorrect.
While the 9-0 annihilation of Bournemouth was most welcome, highlighting the professional pride and fight in his side’s reaction to a rocky start to the season,
accommodating opponents will not sway the fact the Merseysiders need to strengthen in that department.
Liverpool are measured on recruitment matters, and just as they do not allow one defeat or injury to shift the course of their thinking, neither will one victory – however mammoth.
Even Klopp’s admission that buying a midfielder is the smart move is not reactive, it had been the initial plan before being shelved as primary targets were unattainable.
Real Madrid snared Aurelien Tchouameni in a €100 million deal that was not financially practical for Liverpool, before factoring in personal terms.
Bayern Munich muscled in on Ryan Gravenberch, gaining assurances from him – as they did with Sadio Mane – long before the rest of Europe’s elite switched on.
Liverpool have kept a watching brief on Enzo Fernandez, who swapped River Plate for Benfica to continue his development and if Jude Bellingham was on the market this summer, they would’ve been front and centre in discussions.
Nicolo Barella is contracted to Inter until 2026 and would cost “silly money”.
Frenkie de Jong ideally doesn’t want to leave Barcelona, his contractual dispute drags on, and his wage bracket is out of bounds.
So it is not that the club’s recruitment team haven’t been searching for long-term remedies, just the pool of players considered the ‘right fit’ for a side wanting to compete for domestic and European honours is shallow.
As Klopp himself has explained: “You can imagine we are working constantly on these kind of things. We spoke about reasons why sometimes it is not happening, sometimes too expensive, sometimes not the right player. Situations change, but one thing stays important, it needs to be the right player.”
Liverpool are in a situation, given their lack of fit options and receding days before deadline, where they have to consider whether it is worth plumping for an option that is near enough being correct for them rather than nailed on. In this sphere is Manu Kone, Moises Caicedo, and to a lesser extent, Konrad Laimer.
Youri Tielemans profiles well and is available, but there clearly hasn’t been enough credence in what he offers and how to integrate it within the specific functionalities of midfield.
If primary targets are not available – and there’s no guarantee over them next summer either – then a short-term fix that has the tools to develop into long-term solution may work in this scenario.
Klopp’s midfield, and indeed the system itself, is heavily reliant on the press-resistant, pedigreed pass-master Thiago. There is no control without him nor the ability to progress the ball as well or with as much variation.
He is an excellent plan – but for his availability, which was no secret when he was signed from Bayern Munich. When Liverpool cannot pair Thiago and Fabinho, their offensive protection, build-up and transitions suffer. The midfield acts as enablers for the full-backs and the forward – a source of steel, stability, cover.
Naby Keita is another who is rarely available but contributes rare progressive qualities. Liverpool are attempting to find a mix of what Thiago – Vitinha had the most similar profile, but moved to Paris Saint-Germain – and the Guinea international provides with ball retention and carries.
If there were less bodies in midfield – a bloated nine – the club would recruit two for the position.
Ultimately, an overhaul does need to take place not just in terms of attributes needed, expiring contracts and availability, but also the age profile of the department including James Milner (36), Jordan Henderson (32) and Thiago (31).
Harvey Elliott and Fabio Carvalho – both 19 – are extremely gifted but cannot assume responsibility for driving Liverpool’s midfield forward. Bellingham is different in this regard given his sheer scale of experience.
The recruitment department are aware that the middle ground is missing: their speciality of signing players aged 21 to 26 – think Mane, Andy Robertson, Roberto Firmino – who are primed to take the step up in their careers and form the nucleus of a long-term approach.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s contract is up next summer, as is Keita’s, and the latter’s camp have been vocal about not committing to an extension at the moment. While both have supplied dynamism and doses of their quality, neither have managed to start half of Liverpool’s league games in a season.
Curtis Jones, even when fully fit, has not been trusted with consistent run-outs in the first 11 and so the reality of a bloated department is many bodies with not much selection reliability and contribution to show for it.
Having successfully refreshed their forward line, midfield surgery must take precedence.
It is obvious that all Liverpool’s ills in the centre of the park cannot be cured before deadline day and operating in the final days of a window never stems from a position of strength.
However, a recruitment team rightly esteemed as one of the very best in the business surely must have a solution for a series of predicted problems.
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