Liverpool’s midfield conundrum: Who should start in the strongest line up?

Klopp’s midfield selection is often a major topic of discussion. SCOTT MASON mulls over the options the German has at his disposal and who is best equipped to start.

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The Reds midfield is the most competitive area within the title winning squad. When playing for Liverpool it goes without question that you are analysed and judged on every performance.

Fans continuously seek for the perfect eleven that they can rely on to take the Merseyside club to success. However, with Klopp consistently rotating the trio in the middle, many discussions amongst supporters about who is part of Liverpool’s strongest trio are never the same. 

The topic arose once again after a sub-par performance against Arsenal in the FA Community Shield. It was evident that the Premier League champions struggled for creativity in the central areas of the pitch – until Naby Keïta entered the game with 30 minutes of play remaining.

When it comes to the middle of the park, there is certainly a plethora of options for Klopp to choose from. The Reds currently have seven first team midfielders vying for the three starting berths. Each bringing a different style of play for Jürgen to implement into the side.

But which three of the seven aforementioned players make the German’s best midfield trio? 

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It should be no surprise to any fan that Fabinho is the first name to take a spot in that midfield. Liverpool’s number three has become a vital member of the Champions League and Premier League winning side. In the process he has become one of the best – if not the best – holding midfielders in Europe. 

The Brazilian possesses a mixture of key physical and technical attributes that make him a dominant front-footed defensive midfielder. A style of play that has Pep Ljinders refer to the former AS Monaco man as “a lighthouse” that resides within the “organised chaos” that is the Liverpool midfield. 

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A fitting description for 26-year-old who tends to sit in front of the Reds defence with a calm and composed presence, mopping up any potential dangers that present themselves. When on the attack, his two midfield partners will usually roam further forward knowing that the “lighthouse” will nullify any opposition attack should they run into any trouble. 

With several key attributes including an extensive passing range, an ability to read the game perfectly, the strength to break down and neutralise any opposition charge combined with his copious amount of energy means Fabinho picks himself in this conversation. 


The remaining two midfield spots is where it becomes harder to choose.  

Do you select Henderson and Wijnaldum? A pairing which was Klopp’s preferred partnership in front of Fabinho. This triumvirate in the middle was the Germans go to for the big occasions, due to its experience and reliability in previous significant fixtures. 

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The alternative is to go with the more attacking duo of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keïta to partner the Brazilian. These two provide a greater attacking intent whilst also supplying a greater goal threat when needing a vital breakthrough. 

Each combination has their advantages however, both of these set ups lack the right balance. Selecting one player from each duo could provide the perfect harmony, with the right amount of creativity mixed with a solid defensive support base. 

For the second spot it has to go to Liverpool’s captain. While Georginio Wijnaldum is an excellent player, the presence of the Reds captain and the leadership attributes he offers the team gives him the extra edge that no midfielder can provide. Henderson is a vital cog in the Liverpool machine. This is clearly shown in the Red’s results with and without their captain. 

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When the 30-year-old starts Liverpool win 73.8% of games compared to the 68% when he doesn’t. His side also concede less goals with him in the team conceding 0.7 goals per game. In comparison, the Reds concede 1.19 goals per game when he doesn’t make the starting line-up. His leadership, desire to win and determination to beat his opponent to the ball make it very difficult to ignore Jordan Henderson. 

For the other remaining position, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Keïta are being considered. Both supply key attributes that are imperative to a squad. The Englishman gives a more direct attacking midfield option whilst the Guinean offers a meticulous creative style of play.  

It might come as a surprise to some fans to hear that the former Arsenal man features in Klopp’s second and third most used midfield trinities in the Premier League last season – both consisting of Wijnaldum, Ox and either Henderson or Fabinho. In each partnership he would lead the midfield line in supplying support to the front three, engaging in attacks at will when the opportunity was available.

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A great example of this was his performance against Atlético Madrid. He was the best player on the pitch, driving the Reds forward and blitzing through the Spanish sides’ midfield at will. His goal scoring is also a key asset to his game. This was shown throughout the season when he was given the chance to start as he scored decisive goals against Bournemouth, West Ham, Southampton and Chelsea. 

Naby Keïta on the otherhand has yet to firmly stamp his name at Anfield. His footballing talent however cannot be ignored when it comes to this debate. He provides his side with the risk taking that is rarely seen within the three-man midfield, taking pressure away from the full-backs, who are often the sole providers to the forwards. 

Unfortunately, he hasn’t been seen often in the starting line-up during his Anfield career due to a wide range of injuries. Luckily for Reds fans, his recent run of appearances has shown that he is ready to become a regular name in the starting XI, with some stunning displays to end the title winning season.

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The £52m former RB Leipzig man is also a perfect example of how the boss wants his players to press the opposition. Keïta is often one of the first men to initiate a press, demonstrated by his assist for Mohamed Salah’s goal against Brighton or his goal against Chelsea a couple of weeks later. 

His skill set of ball recovery and his desire to run at his opponents makes him an excellent option – and my choice – to partner the more defensive and safe play styles of Jordan Henderson and Fabinho. A perfect blend of defensive and offensive players. 

A midfield trifecta of Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Naby Keïta has only been used once during 2019/20 campaign. This was the 0-0 draw away at Goodison Park just after the restart. Despite the result in that fixture, the three men mentioned above where amongst the better performers. 

Picking Liverpool’s best midfield is no easy task and I do not envy the decision Jürgen Klopp has every matchday. The club has seven excellent football players who could all do an effective job. Though it is a headache for the German, it is one he will surely welcome with the beginning of his sides Premier League defence just around the corner.

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