Big Match

Klopp needs to fire up his midfielders

While Jurgen Klopp's workhorses form the supply line to Salah and company, they also leave them with too much of the responsibility for finishing.
While Jurgen Klopp's workhorses form the supply line to Salah and company, they also leave them with too much of the responsibility for finishing.PHOTO: AFP

Supporting cast must score more to ease burden on Liverpool forwards in title chase

Three weeks ago, Georginio Wijnaldum scored a delicate, delightful lob against Bournemouth.

If it was an early contender for Liverpool's Goal of 2019 award, it is the only candidate for one title: it is the only goal their midfielders have scored in this calendar year.

Over the season, the six - Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Adam Lallana, Naby Keita, Fabinho and Wijnaldum - have only eight in all competitions, and three of those were Milner's penalties.

The Manchester City quartet of Kevin de Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan, David Silva and Bernardo Silva have 25 among them.

Manchester United midielder Paul Pogba, with 14, has almost twice as many goals as the whole Liverpool midfield.

All of which exacerbates the importance of the Reds' front three. When the forwards are firing, it matters not if their supporting cast are drawing blanks.

Yet when Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino are subdued, as they were when none recorded a shot on target against United last week, no one else compensates.

Virgil van Dijk's brace against Watford on Wednesday were the defence's first goals of 2019.

Liverpool's midfielders have a combination of attributes, with one notable exception: goalscoring.

The indispensable Wijnaldum was more potent for Newcastle and PSV Eindhoven. Now he does everything except find the net regularly.

Fabinho has excelled after a slow start. Milner began the season well. Henderson, as his man-of-the-match display against Bayern Munich indicates, is under-rated.

Only the injury-hit Lallana and Keita feel like disappointments, but even then, the summer signing has shown more promise of late.

While Xherdan Shaqiri had an excellent autumn, he was really a forward - Liverpool have never really replaced Philippe Coutinho, who contributed 12 goals in his final half-season alone.

The Brazilian's capacity to produce something from nothing, often with long-range shots, added another dimension and would have been useful on the days when the forward three were blunted.

Coutinho was disproportionately prolific in bigger games, too, and it is no coincidence that he scored three times against Everton.

Last summer, Liverpool almost signed Nabil Fekir to be the most attacking of the three midfielders. The move broke down and the Frenchman instead has 11 goals for Lyon this season.

Liverpool may have hoped for a similar impact from Keita, whose explosiveness helped him register eight for RB Leipzig last season.

Instead, as they look for end-of-season impetus, it may come from a 2017 arrival.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is back in training. He will not feature yet but, if he can recapture the form he showed 12 months ago, including two fine goals against City, he might help render the midfield less barren.

Because, while Jurgen Klopp's workhorses form the supply line to Salah and company, they also leave them with too much of the responsibility for finishing.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2019, with the headline 'Klopp needs to fire up his midfielders'. Print Edition | Subscribe