By Lewis Rooke- @LV_Rooke
When Jurgen Klopp wants something, more often than not the charismatic German gets it. The transfers of Virgil van Dijk and Naby Keita encapsulated Klopp’s desire to tie up the man he wants- and by any means possible. He had to wait six months to see Dutchman van Dijk don the Liverpool red and another year to see the Guinean Keita set foot on Merseyside soil.
But one man slipped through Klopp’s grasp: Nabil Fekir. The transfer of the French international looked certain to go through, but collapsed at the 11th hour due to a failed medical- and it’s this fallen transfer that has had a major impact on the Reds lack of attacking prowess this season.
Curiously, while still functioning, the famously clinical attacking trio of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah have yet to truly show their ruthless streak so far. The Egyptian Salah has looked half the player he was last season, with Firmino struggling to impose his notorious pressing game and Mane finding it difficult to hone his link-up play. It’s easy to look at this and believe it to be a loss of power or ability, but the underlying issue lies deeper than that- it lies in the midfield.
The midfield so far this season has been widely praised, and deservedly so. James Milner and Gini Wijnaldum have been particularly impressive so far with Jordan Henderson and Naby Keita also displaying their abilities. However, whilst impressive, this midfield lacks attacking drive- an attacking drive that in this Reds side has almost gone unnoticed when we have possessed it over the last few seasons.
Philippe Coutinho completely embodied the role of the attacking midfielder at the start of the 2017/18 season. It was his wizardry that drew defenders towards him, leaving that vital space for Salah, Mane and Firmino to deliver the killer blow to many an unfortunate team. The loss of Coutinho in January last year meant the Reds needed someone to step into his role, and that man was none other than Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
The Englishman didn’t possess the craft or guile of the little Brazilian, but he made up for that with pace, power and sheer lung-busting hard work. Chamberlain would repeatedly break midfield lines to join the fluid attack, leaving defenders in two minds as to who they should mark- again opening up space for the front three to dance their way to goal. The former Arsenal mans presence was keenly felt ever since the Champions League last 16 first leg tie against Porto throughout all the tournament, with excellent displays coming along the way- most notably against Manchester City. His injury against Roma in the semi-final was a cruel blow, not only to Chamberlain, but to the supply lines of the front three.
With Oxlade-Chamberlain out for the season and Coutinho now in Catalan colours, Klopp began the hunt for a new creative midfielder. A midfielder who would perfectly compliment Salah, Mane and Firmino in the same way Phil and Ox did. Nabil Fekir was that man. The Frenchman was but minutes away from signing for Klopp, and even donned the Liverbird in the presentation photographs, but it was not meant to be. A botched knee operation on a previous injury flew major red flags for the Liverpool medical team, eventually leading Klopp to pull out of the deal.
James Milner and Gini Wijnaldum, whilst effective and efficient at what they do, are not tailor made for creative attacking football. They are players who will get forward sparsely, but keep their best play for the middle of the park- and who can blame them. However, it’s hard not to wonder what the addition of Fekir would have done to this Liverpool side- with Salah, Mane and Firmino currently starving of any consistent service from the midfield. Supply to the Egyptian and the Senegalese is lately arriving courtesy of Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, hence why Roberto Firmino has found it most difficult to get actively involved into games due to the lack of midfield supply.
Fekir really is the missing piece of this Liverpool puzzle for Klopp, his creativity and guile would have mirrored that of Coutinho and his work-rate that of Oxlade-Chamberlain. His addition would have allowed the front three to sing again, regaining that clinical nature that they have been lacking this season. The bluntness in the middle of the park is draining Liverpool’s attacking power, bluntness that could have been rectified via the arrival of the Frenchman.
Could Fekir still end up in Liverpool red? Time will only tell.