By Dave Davis – @DaveD0106
“The present for his birthday was not that he was in the line-up, it was that we played his favourite system with a double six. He played really well. He was very aggressive and everything was there. It is quite impressive what people saw.”
Jurgen Klopp wasn’t the only one waxing lyrical about Fabinho’s performance against Red Star on Wednesday night. Liverpool’s number three finally made his full debut and impressed most of the Reds fan base too. The battle for Liverpool’s midfield finally looks to be starting.
The ‘old guard’ had appeared to be revitalised by the challenge of new signings early in the season as Liverpool developed a more solid look about them. James Milner especially looked to be re-born as two goals and as many assists saw many believe that the 32 year old was Liverpool’s best player in the early stages of the season.
Injury and back-to-back games have had their affect on the former England international, who maybe carefully managed due to the options available. Milner will no doubt relish the challenge though.
Gini Wijnaldum was linked with an exit to a Turkey before the season started and many believed the Dutchman would be a squad player at best. It’s proven to be the opposite as the twenty-seven year old has proven the most consistent performer in the central area to date.
Wijnaldum appears able to play in any formation or style that Klopp asks him too, with impressive performances in the number six role and higher up the pitch. The combination of energy, speed, close control and willingness to do the ugly parts means that it’s hard to see Liverpool’s number five being shifted anytime soon.
Those who haven’t hit the ground running have plenty to still do. The fanfare that heralded Naby Keita’s arrival off the pitch hasn’t quite been matched by the Guinean’s performances on it.
There have been real flashes of quality and Keita’s skill-set at times, but injuries, a new country and style of football have had their impact. The potential is obvious and the wise-money is on a slow-burner effect.
For all the agendas that surround Jordan Henderson, it has been a difficult start to the season for the captain. Whether a World Cup hangover, injuries or a confidence knock, never has a captain been under such scrutiny so early on.
The one criticism of the midfield has been its lack of creativity, yet recent events mean Klopp now has options. Xherdan Shaqiri is starting to look a steal at £13 million, as the Swiss player already has five assists in just 349 minutes.
The 27 year old seems to have struck up an understanding with Salah and with every performance looks the player capable of supplying a killer ball.
Adam Lallana’s return has been another fill-up for the reds and a player as divisive as Henderson for many, will have to fight if he wants to see action on a regular basis. Fitness may well play a part too.
A polite footnote for Oxlade-Chamberlain aside, there’s enough games left for all to have an impact and Klopp will rotate when he believes it’s right top. That being said, a preferred line-up will always take shape as we move past the first-ten games of the season and it’s only Wijnaldum who appears to be the constant right now.
The midfield battle appears to now be raging. After a Champions League final with only three options, it’s what we always wanted.