Liverpool’s midfield net loss XI with barely a goal in sight

Tim Ellis
Liverpool midfielders Jordan Henderson and Fabinho

Since Philippe Coutinho left in January 2018, Liverpool’s midfield has been described as functional, rigid and goal-shy.

Only last month, Jamie Carragher said “the midfield three don’t score”. It’s long been a problem under Jurgen Klopp’s reign.

Maybe it won’t matter with the new Fab Five and the fact that the Reds are top scorers in the league. Here’s a look at XI that were/are mostly mechanical and rarely maestro…

 

Emre Can
Can’s Liverpool career began after the title miss agony of 2013/14, which made his purchase (alongside Adam Lallana and, ahem, Rickie Lambert) all the more underwhelming. He filled three midfield roles as well as operating at centre-back and right-back when Brendan Rodgers was at his most tinkersome. He was versatile but less effective when stretched, with the turning circle of a large cruise ship. Watching the German was like a modest Sunday afternoon movie in a standard Odeon seat. Can’s most memorable moment was being on the end of a dream team move against Hoffenheim in the Champions League qualifier in 2017 when Klopp screamed “that’s ******* football”! That overhead against Watford wasn’t too shabby either.

We called it, by the way.

 

Gini Wijnaldum
The Dutchman was almost ever-present in the engine room and his loss is causing a huge software error. Every time Liverpool have squandered a two-goal lead this season, the social media channels trend furiously about Wijnaldum’s game-management. The screening, the shielding, the linking has gone missing as the opposition gatecrashes the garden. Some fans didn’t appreciate all of this when the Dutchman claimed he was blamed for losses. And his goals were rare but vital. Those two strikes against Barca were crucial to kickstarting trophy success too. Wijnaldum was top-level security, protecting the HQ.

 

Adam Lallana
Lallana was never fully appreciated at Anfield although his manager (also his neighbour) adored him. He was the highest-scoring action man midfielder in Klopp’s first full season with eight PL strikes. Bodily breakdowns stopped him in his tracks thereafter and the goals and appearances dried up. Nevertheless, he led by example off the pitch and on the training ground.

“The young players, when they talk about their most important things in the future, what happened in their first two years, they will mention Adam Lallana, 100 per cent,” Klopp claimed.

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp rubs Adam Lallana's head

 

James Milner
The fit bit bloke has almost had his day, but with Liverpool’s recent ever-decreasing midfield options, Milner has been seen 15 times in the Premier League this season. Fans are letting him down gently with the caveat of “I love Milner, but we shouldn’t be relying on a 36-year-old”. The only time he has ever looked out of place is playing against Wilfried Zaha and Phil Foden as an emergency full-back. Hardly surprising. His last strike for the Reds was in that 4-0 win over Leicester in December 2019. He will keep grinding to the end

 

Jordan Henderson
Over a decade on from signing for the club, the narrative is still tainted by the negative. It wasn’t that long ago when Jordan Henderson’s mere existence in Liverpool’s midfield was viewed with the utmost suspicion. Even derision. Back in the day of the gold rush of Suarez and Sturridge, he was a box-to-box influencer, driving up the park and contributing crucial goals with motorised legs and compound tyres that never wore out.

Now that he’s a thirtysomething, the naysayers are picking on his slow start to this season, exacerbated by the injury which ruined his Euro 2020. Liverpool’s captain doesn’t look lame but he’s struggling. He’s scored a couple of crackers though, which makes it a paltry ten in the last six PL seasons.

 

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
The Ox had a hot streak in 2017/18 that coincided with Liverpool’s glorious march to the Champions League final. But since the ACL injury sustained against Roma in the semis, he’s been more or less tolerated as a decent bit-part player. His shooting – so red hot against Manchester City in key league and CL games back in the day – has never quite returned to those heights. Still, three from the last six shows that when called upon, there’s a bit more juice to be squeezed out from the va va voom vaults.

 

Naby Keita
Reds fans were spitting out their popcorn at the Guinean’s start at Anfield. Keita assisted Mo Salah’s opening goal of the 2018/19 season and in the follow-up at Selhurst Park, collected the ball on the edge of the penalty area, spun his marker and then delivered a stunning ball over the top for Salah. Unfortunately, he’s made of Daniel Sturridge putty. Every season, there’s a new reel of cool training sessions and shouts of “Naby, lad.” Then, it just doesn’t quite happen.

 

Curtis Jones
Klopp said he was going to have some fun with this player. That much was clear when the youngster scored an absolute beauty against Everton in the FA Cup in 2020. Jones has a creative streak and a hint of arrogance too. If he sometimes overplays the intricate stuff outside his own area, then at least it shows some personality. The kid is only 20 years old. He’s not cut from the basic workshop. There’s something there.

 

Thiago
This was the signing. Wayne Rooney said that if Liverpool got Thiago they would win the league. Richarlison then took him out to put paid to that assertion. So, it’s not really worked out. Yet. The Spaniard scores the odd sublime goal which would make Gary Neville squeak; he does fouls aplenty; he gets mugged off the ball two or three times in a bad game. On the other hand, those passes make grown men drool over training bibs. For the moment, Thiago is like a dessert of the day that’s unavailable most weeks.

 

Fabinho
Fabinho is the fire blanket, covering the fullbacks with those raking legs and winning possession with perfect 10 ice rink sliding tackles. He’s like a plumber who can stop the flood and be at the toll bridge to stop the traffic. This means we rarely see him hit those occasional piledrivers which tore past Claudio Bravo and Wayne Hennessey.

However, the Brazilian has another string to his bow. Penalties. He scored 15 out of 15 for Monaco and with Mo Salah in absentia, has coolly slotted a couple against Shrewsbury and Crystal Palace. The sudden burst of goals means he has scored more in the last five games than in the previous 127.

 

Xherdan Shaqiri
The sight of Shaqiri bursting to come on for two minutes – and then sitting down again when Riyad Mahrez blasted his penalty over the bar at Anfield in 2018 – summed up the Swiss’s Liverpool career. He was never fully trusted by Klopp. When he pulled all the forward strings to mount up a three-goal lead against Southampton, he was hooked at half-time for the sake of midfield ballast. Shaqiri delivered seven goals in 45 Premier League appearances, which is a decent rate given his inertia waiting on so many sidelines.