Will the real Liverpool please stand up this season?
The Reds are growing up, supposedly.
The swashbuckling heavy metal genre has been traded for a more controlled, mature melody.
But, despite the last embers of November nearly flickering out, there’s still one area that looks far from the finished article.
The departures of Philippe Coutinho and Emre Can and the long-term injury to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain spurred Jurgen Klopp into spending £90m on a new midfield in the summer.
Yet every single penny of that £90m was sat on the bench as PSG beat them in the Champions League this week.
Last season’s tried and trusted trio of Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Georginio Wijnaldum were preferred to Naby Keita and Fabinho.
That stodgy, workmanlike triumvirate works when pressing is the priority.
When the system itself is the main creator you don’t necessarily need a creative mind.
Yet its limitations are brutally exposed – as it has been in Rome, Kiev and now Paris – when the contest is crying out for a cool, composed head to put their foot on the ball.
Henderson is sometimes unfairly pulled apart by sections of the Reds’ fan base but not only was he bypassed too easily for both PSG goals, he looked sideways or backwards far too often.
The three picked collectively somehow made the midfield look both rigid and flimsy at the same time.
So what’s the solution?
10 years ago when Liverpool arguably had the best midfield in Europe, Rafa Benitez asked Momo Sissoko to press and unsettle the opposition.
Sissoko was the calculated headless chicken within a system blessed with the imagination and guile of Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso.
Compare that to the modern day Reds and if James Milner is playing the Sissoko role, Henderson and Wijnaldum are some way off Gerrard and Alonso.
In fact, you could probably argue goalkeeper Alisson has a better passing range than any of the three that started in Paris.
The following graphics courtesy of Football Whispers are pretty damning of Henderson in particular:
All things point to Keita.
Despite a slow start to life in England, injuries hampering his settling period, the Guinean remains the one player capable of bridging the void between midfield and attack in the absence of Oxlade-Chamberlain’s dynamism.
In his 20-minute cameo against PSG, Keita completed more dribbles than Henderson, Milner and Wijnaldum combined.
With Keita in and out of the side Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have suffered, having to shoulder the creativity burden as well as their expectations up front.
That in turn is stifling their attack somewhat, even if their goal scoring statistics are much the same as this time last season.
In their pursuit of arguably the most dominant team in Premier League history Klopp needs to strike the right blend.
With December upon us and the Reds playing 11 times in 40 days, now would be a good time to find it.
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