MARIBOR, SLOVENIA - Tuesday, October 17, 2017: Liverpool's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates scoring the sixth goal during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between NK Maribor and Liverpool at the Stadion Ljudski vrt. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The playmaker problem that continues to weigh heavily on Liverpool

As the dust settles from another disappointing away performance in the Champions League it is again Liverpool’s midfield that attracts attention and divides opinion.

Liverpool have, of late, adapted their style of play for the Premier League. Jurgen Klopp seems keen on returning to the shape that served him so well as head coach of Borussia Dortmund.

The fact the Reds sit second, behind a rampant Manchester City and within striking distance of the summit, back up the theory behind Klopp’s (not so) new approach.

However, in the Champions League, it is the tried and tested 4-3-3 that seemingly gets the nod – but does this style suit those picked to play?


Last season’s missing men

Mohamed Salah of Liverpool (c) celebrates scoring the first goal during the Champions League Quarter Final 1st Leg, match at Anfield Stadium, Liverpool. Picture date: 4th April 2018. Picture credit should read: Simon Bellis/Sportimage via PA Images

Liverpool romped to the final in Kyiv last season, humbling opponents such as Guardiola’s City and victors against AS Roma.

There has been a thought that the route to the Ukrainian capital was achieved via the same midfield that performed so poorly in Paris on Wednesday.

In fact, the power behind Liverpool’s surge to the final was fuelled by two noticeable absentees from this season’s squad – Philippe Coutinho and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

With one departed for pastures new and the other sidelined through injury, the Reds have been unable to hit the same highs as witnessed previously.

Prior to his move to Barcelona, Coutinho provided a creative spark that allowed the front three of Liverpool to break European records.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, April 4, 2018: Liverpool's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates scoring the second goal during the UEFA Champions League Quarter-Final 1st Leg match between Liverpool FC and Manchester City FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

After he pushed through a move to the Catalan giants it was the movement and ability of Oxlade-Chamberlain during the knockout stages which allowed the continuation of the fast flowing fluid football that wowed the watching public.

It is no coincidence that his season-ending injury – against Roma at Anfield in the semi-final first leg – saw a decline in the devastating attack during the final two games of that European campaign.

And so it has continued this season, Liverpool have now lost their last five away games in UEFA’s premier competition with a midfield three that have been exposed for a lack of creativity and pace.


Current situation

Milner, Wijnaldum, Henderson (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

There is no doubt that both James Milner and Jordan Henderson bring a sense of purpose to the Reds midfield, but together there seems to be a lack of fluidity – as so well exploited by PSG.

The situation in Paris was further compounded by Liverpool’s first-half performance, whereby the Reds wasted possession and displayed some of the worst passing ability seen in 2018.

Liverpool are suffering from a lack of creativity – the argument has been made a number of times over the past 12 months that a ‘playmaker’ is missing.

The collapse of the deal to bring Nabil Fekir to Anfield has been exacerbated by the injury to Oxlade-Chamberlain and the slow start for Naby Keita.

Xherdan Shaqiri was influential as Liverpool dispatched Red Star Belgrade with ease at Anfield, but the Switzerland international was part of an attacking midfield three behind Mohamed Salah – who played the central striker role in a 4-2-3-1 formation.



Liverpool forward Roberto Firmino (9) celebrates with Liverpool midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri (23) after scoring his goal during the Uefa Champions League Group Stage football match n.3 LIVERPOOL - CRVENA ZVEZDA on 24/10/2018 at the Anfield Road in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Matteo Bottanelli/NurPhoto/Sipa USA)

The question for Klopp as Liverpool head into an exceptionally busy schedule is, how does the German get the best from an area that is key to the performance of those in front? Liverpool’s attack very much depends on those entrusted to deliver them the ball.

Gini Wijnaldum has recently fulfilled a more attacking position for the Netherlands and to good effect.

Fabinho – whilst performing well when given limited opportunity – doesn’t seem to be first on the manager’s list when the matchday lineup is announced and Keita has been dogged by minor injury niggles since his arrival.

With every game in the Premier League as important as the next and a ‘do or die’ fixture against Napoli in two weeks in the Champions League, just how Klopp approaches the lack of fluidity and creativity in Liverpool’s midfield will be intriguing viewing.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, November 11, 2018: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp before the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Fulham FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

How does the Liverpool boss ensure that Liverpool will keep within touching distance of that all elusive Premier League title while ensuring that the Reds continue to dine at the top table in Europe come early spring?

Speaking ahead of the Merseyside Derby on Sunday the boss said he doesn’t “see any problems in midfield” currently when his side are in a 4-3-3 formation.

What is for sure, is that a pedestrian performance as seen in Paris on Wednesday night could be similarly exposed by teams who may not have the same quality but a matching desire.

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