By Connor Varnish – @cvarn4
Last week was pretty depressing. All but knocked out of the Champions League after going down 3-0 to Barcelona at the Nou Camp, and seemingly no hope in the title race with Manchester City controlling the fate of the Premier League trophy.
While the domestic title is still out of Liverpool’s hands, there is still hope. Perhaps Anfield’s greatest comeback ever as Liverpool progressed to the Champions League final in Madrid via dramatic fashion will sow an even stronger optimism among supporters that this may be our year to nick the double by the skin of our teeth.
Dead in the water last week, deflated after such an amazing season that looked destined to end trophy-less, all to be revived by a Gini Wijnaldum and Divock Origi brace pumping life back into the club and its supporters. How can you not love football?
This second wind from Jurgen Klopp’s men has brought the discussion back to the table regarding a selection dilemma across the pitch, particularly in the midfield. With Naby Keita already ruled out for the rest of the season, the German has quite the headache when choosing a midfield trio to compete in the final two games of the season that could shape destiny if all goes according to Liverpool’s plan.
I think it goes without saying our best midfielder, at least our most inform midfielder at the moment, is the man anchoring the three in Fabinho. He’s really stepped up over the past few months and it looks as though we’re finally seeing why he was one of the most sought-after defensive midfielders on the market when Liverpool acquired the Brazilian last summer from French side Monaco.
Fabinho has showcased he’s always willing to throw himself into the nasty side of the game – whether it be committing to a 50/50 challenge or an aerial duel – while also displaying the class to boss a game in a sexier fashion with his ability to pick out a perfect pass from five yards or 40 yards coupled with his impeccable positional awareness to name a few of his strengths.
The Brazilian is a must start in these last two games against Wolves in the league, and Tottenham in the Champions League final.
Another shoo-in, in my opinion, to join Fabinho in the middle of the park is Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson. Unshackled from the ‘number six’ role, we’ve seen the skipper push into a more advanced, almost box-to-box role as Fabinho’s emerged as the Reds’ best defensive midfielder.
Henderson has flourished in this No.8 role since he moved there in mid-April, and I’d caution a guess that most, if not all, Liverpool fans have been more than pleased with his performances as of late.
We’ve all referenced the Jordan Henderson of 13/14 and how vital he was in a more advanced role in the title charge of that season, and it looks as though he’s regained that ability to threaten on the attack while being allowed to use his engine to cover what feels like the entirety of the pitch. England’s vice captain gets the second midfield slot for me.
Here’s where the headache for Jurgen Klopp comes into play. James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Gini Wijnaldum all have a legitimate claim to be included in the midfield three, some with better shouts than others.
James Milner will certainly feel as though he deserves a spot in the team. The 33-year-old may never get to play in two matches with similar magnitude as Sunday’s tie against Wolves and a Champions League final in Madrid – he’ll feel as though this is his last chance on the grandest of stages to prove he’s got enough left in the tank to compete at the highest level.
But with Andy Robertson looking a doubt for Wolves, at least, I think we’re more likely to see Milner feature at left back at Anfield on Sunday against Wolves, and perhaps an appearance off the bench in Madrid.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will also feel deserving of a chance in the upcoming matches – we’ve seen him come on against Huddersfield in late April, but the game was well out of hand in the Reds’ favour by the time Ox came onto the field.
Depending on the score on Sunday, it may be likely to see the 25-year-old come off the bench – and perhaps even in the Champions League final if the Reds need a spark capable of driving at a defence – but it still may be too soon for the Englishman as Jurgen Klopp has already stated he won’t risk him until he’s back at his best, which unfortunately may not be until pre-season.
The man who has the most legitimate claim for the final spot in Liverpool’s midfield is Gini Wijnaldum – it has to be. The Dutchman himself voiced his frustration after the Barcelona game stating he was angry with Klopp for not selecting him in the starting XI. As we know, he went on to be a massive reason as to why the Reds have a chance at their sixth major European title.
Gini was hungry and had a point to prove last Tuesday night and such a performance should be rewarded with a spot in the team for Liverpool’s final games. While critics have fairly called out Wijnaldum’s lack of tenacity in front of goal, the Dutchman has silenced those critics in the past month or so.
A crucial goal away from home against Cardiff and more recently his brace against Barca have shown that Gini’s raised his level to make him a mainstay in the current Liverpool setup.
The Premier League is out of our hands, yes, but Tuesday nights heroics have proven that crazier things can happen in football. If Liverpool can beat one of the world’s best sides 4-0, why can’t little old Brighton get a draw against City at the Amex?
Optimism courses in abundance through Liverpool fans and certainly the players too following this past week’s events. Jurgen Klopp should reward those who have instilled this optimism in all of us – Fabinho, Hendo, and Gini in particular.
While not the most prolific throughout a good portion of the season, these three, Hendo and Gini specifically, have showed the courage and guile in the final third to fire Liverpool to glory both domestically and in Madrid.
Fabinho will do the dirty work while facilitating play, Hendo will push the game forward and cover every blade of grass he can, and Gini will perhaps continue this recent trend of popping up again with a crucial goal with his late runs into the box.
The title may be too much to ask for at this point, but why can’t this midfield trio, among others, bring us home a sixth European Cup in Madrid?