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English Premier League Football

Will Liverpool’s lack of midfield creativity haunt them against City?


A quick look at Liverpool’s games, and it’s quite evident that the style of play isn’t always pleasing to the eye. Yet Klopp has been able to guide them to a Champions League title. It just goes on to show how effective Liverpool are, in playing to their strengths.

To put things into perspective, Liverpool have lost just a single game in the entirety of the 19-20 season. They are yet to lose a game at home for more than a year in the Premier League. Yes! Take a moment to read back the previous sentence, that’s how good they have been. What makes the way Liverpool play so effective yet, to put it crudely quite single-dimensional.

What makes Liverpool such an effective yet one-dimensional side?

The first factor which draws one’s attention is the heavy involvement of the fullbacks in almost all attacks. The fullbacks bombard the opposition’s box with crosses. There are always three eager attackers ready to come into the box and latch onto these crosses.

A small example being the number of headed goals scored by Sadio Mane in the last 2 years. This may be further mixed by a long ball into space from either of the cb’s, directly to the extremely quick Salah and Mane.

Liverpool's midfield has been ultra-defensive(1)

However, the most interesting aspect of the team’s game-play is the midfield which can be labelled as one of the least technical, amongst the top 6 of the Premier League sides. Fabinho, Henderson and Wijnaldum cannot even boast of technical abilities, which are superior to the likes of Joao Moutinho.

The catch here being that Liverpool midfielders are hardly expected to be creative in nature. Their sole responsibility lies in the need for them to be physically intense and maintain the energy of the game, by pressing and defending high up in the opposition half.

Fabinho and Henderson contribute with the occasional (customary option in some games) cross-field pass to the fullbacks to switch up play or end up with the same 10-yard pass to the fullback near to them.

Klopp’s masterstroke:

Liverpool’s midfielders barely register any assists or rarely do take any free kicks or set pieces quite contrasting to the attributes of midfielders from other clubs. The midfield is one position which has historically always been affiliated to good technical ability, be it an ability to manoeuvre the ball or to be good at passing or good at shooting or good at chance creation. Klopp has been successful in removing this entire aspect of the game.

Kudos to Klopp for this switch up, by deploying really physical and high energy midfielders in a really physically demanding league. The creative responsibility lies with the fullbacks who will always have space on the pitch. Now that he is racking up those brilliant performances, the transfer of Fabinho just makes so much more sense.  Liverpool’s midfield is also quite adept at winning the ball up high, in the opposition half, being heavily pressed by the ever eager to track back and drop into space Firmino, and the 2 midfielders ahead of Fabinho, Henderson namely.

The only matches that Liverpool can be seen struggling are ones against a team with a superior midfield. They further fail to break down a team set up as a defensive low block. This was quite visible when Liverpool played Chelsea with Jorginho, Kovacic and Kante able to easily run the midfield. Similar was the outcome when Liverpool played against City, the latter’s midfield being almost unplayable at times.

Liverpool’s success a rare sight:

There has been quite an interesting history with successful teams always having a superior midfield. Be it Pep Guardiola at Barcelona with Iniesta and Xavi or David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne at Manchester City. Mourinho with Frank Lampard at Chelsea initially and Cesc Fabregas in his second coming. Manuel Pellegrini’s City side with Yaya Toure spearheading their title-winning season.

All being examples of how a title-winning side’s midfield is usually always second to none be it in quality or performance on the pitch. Yet in contrast to this narrative, Liverpool have been successful in a Champions League campaign and almost successful in the Premier League. Credit where due.

One has to give it to Klopp and his players for mastering and moulding into this style of play. They are further extremely efficient in playing the same way throughout the season/year. The only hard nut to crack being Pep Guardiola, whose City side have been effectively able to surpass this Liverpool team. This has been due to the ease of a superior midfield and the technical know-how, and application-level of a typical Guardiola side.

With Liverpool having a 6 point lead on City at the moment, this is the perfect buildup to the match. The honours are on the team in second to keep the title race open. Will they be able to easily defeat Liverpool like on previous occasions or have the league leaders evolved. Will Jurgen Klopp be able to add another cheat code to the team, by being able to defeat Manchester City. 

Is having a superior midfield the only way to beat Klopp’s Liverpool or will someone come up with other means. For now, they move on like an unstoppable colossal force, stronger than ever. 

Written By: Jai. M


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