By Hani Na’eem – @hani_eem
Talks of Liverpool’s midfield issues have probably become boring at this point. Discussions about lack of creativity from midfield started after the draw at Chelsea in the Premier League back in September, and they have been a constant topic ever since.
After the tie with Chelsea came the defeat to Napoli in the Champions League, and another draw in the Premier League followed – this time a goalless draw against Manchester City at Anfield. A good spell followed, with the Reds winning their next three games in all competitions – scoring nine goals in the process.
Now, after last week’s 2-1 defeat to French champions Paris Saint-Germain, discussions have resurfaced about whether there is a fundamental issue in the middle of the park for Liverpool.
Klopp has been dismissive of those claims in his pre-match press conference before Sunday’s Merseyside Derby. “Sorry, I didn’t see that,” the Liverpool manager said. Klopp did not hesitate to state the fact that his team have conceded only six goals in the league so far – the best record any Liverpool team has managed after 15 games.
The German acknowledged that his team could have scored more goals or created more chances, but “I don’t see any problems in midfield,” he insisted.
However, after three defeats in as many away games in Europe, criticism of Liverpool’s midfield is not receding. Liverpool have failed to score from open play in their three games on the continent in the Champions League this season, and fans have been crying out for the attacking football they saw from their team last season.
It would be ridiculous to dismiss what Liverpool have achieved so far in the season, and the midfield has had its part to play in that of course. Nevertheless, the concerns over midfield performances are not unwarranted, especially in Europe where oppositions are of the highest quality.
It seems, then, that Klopp’s biggest task for this season would be to find midfield balance – a balance which maintains the team’s impressive defensive record in the league but also manages to create more chances for the front line.
After all, balance is arguably what this Liverpool team has lacked for quite some time now. Last season, Liverpool were excellent at creating and scoring chances, using the high pressing and counter-attack to a deadly effect. They were, however, unable to reliably protect a lead for the vast majority of the season.
This season, a more controlled approach has seen the Reds keep nine clean sheets out of 15 league games so far. However, their midfield still seems lacking in their ability to consistently create chances at a slower pace.
This was made clear in more than once occasion, the latest being in the game against PSG where the Reds failed to register more than one shot on Gianluigi Buffon’s goal.
Klopp protecting his team at press conferences is nothing new, but the manager will surely be looking to find the midfield balance to carry out the game plan at both ends of the pitch.
On their side, Liverpool fans will be hoping this will be done sooner rather than later with games coming thick and fast this month.