Football: Jurgen Klopp's middle 8 strikes a note

While Klopp picks a different midfield to take on a different opponent, the demands in the middle of the park are high and, as such, so are the chances of those concerned breaking down altogether.
While Klopp picks a different midfield to take on a different opponent, the demands in the middle of the park are high and, as such, so are the chances of those concerned breaking down altogether.PHOTO: REUTERS

Manager's rotation policy keeps midfielders on their toes in physically-demanding roles

LONDON • It was about an hour after the final whistle had blown at St Mary's last Saturday that Liverpool's players returned to their team bus, but before Adam Lallana did so, he decided to first walk towards a man and young boy standing a short distance away.

Once there, he embraced the former and posed for a photograph with the latter. He was all smiles despite his complete lack of involvement in the preceding contest.

But then that has always been one of Jurgen Klopp's many strengths as the Reds' manager: an ability to keep all his players happy and connected to "the group".

Lallana clearly feels wanted as he knows he will have a part to play for Liverpool this season as part of an ever-rotating midfield that also includes Fabinho, Georginio Wijnaldum, James Milner, Jordan Henderson, Xherdan Shaqiri, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

It is one area of the pitch that Klopp never settles on. The goalkeeper (barring injury and collapse in form) remains the same, as does, on the same basis, the back four.

Then there is the menacing front three of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino. But there are certainly no automatic picks in his favoured three-man midfield.

The manager's refusal to settle on a starting three from his pool of eight senior midfielders is understandable. For a Klopp midfield is like no other, characterised as it is by constant aggressive running, proactive pressing and the need of those selected to do a little bit of everything.

Against Southampton playing away from home last week, Wijnaldum started alongside Milner and Oxlade-Chamberlain.

BATTLE FOR PLACES

It's not important how long you play, it's how good you play. We have to make sure our midfielders play as good as possible as often as possible.

JURGEN KLOPP, Liverpool manager, on the demands he places on his midfielders.

Wijnaldum recycled possession while shielding the defence in the No. 6 position, allowing Milner to cover ground in his usual workman-like fashion.

Earlier this month in the Community Shield, it was Henderson and Fabinho with Wijnaldum - an experienced midfield and full of running to match an equally aggressive Manchester City. This trio are not naturally the most creative, but they can exert pressure by dominating high up and pressing intelligently.

Keita then came on to add a bit of the creative spark which was lacking in the first half, before Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lallana and Shaqiri were also introduced.

In between those two games, Klopp kept his Henderson-Fabinho-Wijnaldum combination for the opening league win over Norwich while in the Super Cup against Chelsea, Fabinho, Milner and Henderson started in the victory over the Blues on penalties.

While Klopp picks a different midfield to take on a different opponent, the demands in the middle of the park are high and, as such, so are the chances of those concerned breaking down altogether.

"No player should play 50 or 60 games a season, especially not in these intense positions," said Klopp. "Give whatever you have and next game somebody else will do the job. That's the plan but we can only do that if they all stay fit."

Given that Keita is now sidelined with a muscle strain, it is encouraging for Liverpool that Lallana is fit following his various injury problems and Oxlade-Chamberlain also appears to be fully up to speed having missed a year's worth of football due to a knee injury.

As the midfield trio continue to rotate and if managed correctly, it could play a significant role in the Reds challenging for a 19th league title.

Liverpool, one of only two teams to have won both Premier League games so far, are level on points with fellow table-toppers Arsenal before the two clubs take on each other at Anfield this Saturday.

"It's not important how long you play, it's how good you play," added Klopp of his midfielders.

"We have to make sure our midfielders play as good as possible as often as possible."

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2019, with the headline 'Klopp's middle 8 strikes a note'. Print Edition | Subscribe