When Oxlade-Chamberlain was signed for £35m from Arsenal on August 31, 2017, there were those who felt it represented a deadline day panic buy, along with intrigue as to how he would be utilised by Jürgen Klopp. The four years since have been injury-hit, but the first eight months showed his promise.
Georginio Wijnaldum departed Liverpool in the summer after making 51 appearances in his final season. Many Liverpool fans expected a player of the Dutch international’s quality and availability to be replaced with a new signing, but the Reds only brought in centre-back Ibrahima Konaté in the summer transfer window.
After an impressive pre-season, Harvey Elliott has started two out of Liverpool’s three opening Premier League games, both on the right side of the midfield as part of a plan from manager Jürgen Klopp to make Trent Alexander-Arnold more influential in central areas.
The 18-year-old seems to be filling the void left by Wijnaldum and has done so admirably so far, but with ageing and injury-prone options around him, should the club have been more active in the window?
The first choice trio does not need improvement. Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Thiago Alcantara make up a fantastic midfield three. It would cost a lot to buy more players of their calibre and there are not many midfielders available in world football who could get in ahead of them.
Depth looks like it should not be an issue either, with Naby Keïta, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, James Milner, Curtis Jones and now the emergent Elliott making up eight midfield options for Klopp this season.
So, what are the issues?
Most of Klopp’s midfield options have suffered several injuries at the club. In the last two seasons, Keïta missed 43 games, Henderson was absent from 26 and Fabinho, Milner and Oxlade-Chamberlain all missed 43 between them.
How many games did Wijnaldum miss in that time? Just two. In fact, he only missed 10 games in his entire Liverpool career through injury. His availability compared to his midfield partners was fantastic.
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Age may not be an issue that desperately needs looking at but planning ahead would be wise. At 35 years old, Milner seems likely to leave the club at the end of this season when his contract expires. The emergence of Jones and Elliott should sort that issue, but you also have Henderson aged 31 and Thiago 30.
Who could Liverpool sign?
Jude Bellingham has been one of Europe’s most exciting young midfielders since his move to Borussia Dortmund. According to Paul Joyce, Liverpool are interested in the 18-year-old but the Bundesliga club is reluctant to sell. A potential deal for Bellingham may be costly, but a player of his talent would be a huge asset to any club.Embed from Getty Images
Yves Bissouma was linked with the Reds in the summer. The Brighton midfielder has one of the best dribbling and tackling rates in Europe and, just like Wijnaldum, he is very press resistant. The 25-year-old would be a cheaper and more realistic option compared to Bellingham.
Likewise, Florian Neuhaus would be realistic due to Borussia Mönchengladbach failing to qualify for European competition last season. The German offers something different to the archetypal Klopp midfielder – he is a great creative player and passer in general, he is calm under pressure and can beat players with a dribble.
His ability off the ball may leave more to be desired but he could be very useful in games where the team struggles to create chances.
The midfield situation at Liverpool may not desperately need looking at, but a long-term strategy to eventually replace ageing starters would be smart. An injury crisis like last season may speed up that process and lead to the club dipping into the market sooner, like they did with Konaté, but the current depth should be good enough for the Reds to challenge for silverware this season.
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