Jurgen Klopp has always had the belief Alexis Mac Allister could thrive in the deep midfield role, a stance that has been vindicated with one impressive performance after another.
A steady start was fulfilled by the £35 million summer recruit in the early months, but the developing performances of the Argentine midfielder reflect a player who has completely settled into life at Anfield.
Not many will have anticipated the former Brighton man being deployed in a holding role when he put pen to paper on a five-year deal back in June.
After all, the 25-year-old registered 12 goal contributions in the Premier League last season and seized the legendary No. 10 shirt.
Yet Mac Allister continues to grow into a tremendously comfortable option in the No. 6; he possesses much of the technical quality needed to evolve a deeply exciting new-look Liverpool side.
“He’s incredibly smart. As long as you can train the formation, he’s an outstanding [number] six, you can tell me what you want!”
A natural ability
Wataru Endo‘s departure to the Asian Cup made the midfielder’s smooth return from a knee injury essential, and he has certainly looked the part in his six starts upon return.
The World Cup winner displayed his class in, arguably, his most impressive showing in a red shirt in the 4-0 victory at Bournemouth.
It was by no means plain sailing for Liverpool in the first half on the south coast, but Mac Allister remained a force at both ends, with the nous to repeatedly progress play with inch-perfect passes as well as having the awareness to cut out transitions.
In the opening 45, Mac Allister created the most chances out of any Liverpool player (two), won the most duels out of any player on the pitch, registered the most ball recoveries and won five of his seven tackles.
This was reaffirmed through his five completed progressive passes in the first half, as he and Ibrahima Konate boasted their impressive passing ranges to initiate Liverpool’s most promising openings.
Until the clinical edge of the Reds’ front line was discovered after the break, Mac Allister’s offerings were being wasted; Luis Diaz and Harvey Elliott were guilty of over-speculative efforts from range.
Liverpool’s passing network in the victory over Bournemouth, graphic created via McLachBot
As visualised above, Mac Allister was both hugely involved and effective in Liverpool’s buildup at Dean Court, with only Konate completing more progressive passes than the Argentine.
The completely natural ability to receive the ball facing his own goal and spin on the half-turn to release Elliott or Curtis Jones in transition has been vital for this ‘Liverpool 2.0’ side, and they are certainly reaping the rewards.
A ball winner
‘Imposing’ isn’t an adjective you would expect to be attributed to a player of Mac Allister’s stature, but that is precisely what he has reflected on and off the ball in recent weeks, with an ever-growing tenacity becoming more present in his game too.
The deeper role isn’t an entirely new experience, considering just under 40 percent of his minutes at Brighton were spent in that area.
That came alongside a tremendously energetic and efficient ball-winner in Moises Caicedo, however, which makes his impressive adaptation to his new Anfield role alongside more attack-minded midfielders even more admirable.
He also won possession 15 times and won 14 of his 20 duels (including ground and aerial duels) in a dominant defensive performance that allowed the Reds to remain on the front foot without being overly weary of the attacking threat posed by the Cherries.
Nobody on the pitch created more chances than Liverpool’s new No. 10, or registered more final third entries, and he came away with the most interceptions on the other side of his game.
Promising signs from Mac Allister have been evidenced beyond this stellar showing, however.
Both sides of the game
It took the creative wizard just 10 minutes on his return from a knee injury, in the New Year’s Day victory over Newcastle, to produce a moment of magic, with one of the most scintillating passes of the season before Diogo Jota won a penalty.
Liverpool were average at best for the best part of an hour that night, but a second-half system change into a 4-2-3-1 – which has became the norm when the Reds are chasing games – worked wonders in getting Mac Allister more into the game.
Liverpool average positions in first 55 minutes (left) and from 55th minute (right) vs Fulham, graphic created via McLachBot
The increase in involvement from Mac Allister from the point of the tactical change from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1 (Jota and Darwin Nunez replaced Elliott and Ryan Gravenberch) was remarkable, as is presented above.
Alongside Jones in a midfield two, the 25-year-old looked immensely comfortable, and was exceptional in that stint of the match in terms of progressing play and controlling the game.
For the first 55 before the switch, despite a fairly decent personal performance in that period, Mac Allister had little of the ball and completed just two progressive passes.
As shown above, Mac Allister was the second-most involved player in Liverpool’s buildup from the point of the substitutes behind only Virgil van Dijk, registering four progressive passes, which enabled his team to sustain pressure on the Cottagers.
Generally, there are strong similarities between the current version of Mac Allister and the form of Thiago in the second half of the incredible 2021/22 season, where Liverpool dominated possession on a weekly basis to create openings for a rampant strike force.
The positional awareness for this challenging deeper role is growing on a weekly basis; like the vastly experienced Thiago, the Argentine is a tremendously intelligent footballer with the technical and mental strengths to drive Liverpool forward.
In the second half of the dramatic first leg, the tweak made by Jurgen Klopp worked wonders for Mac Allister, who was given more license to progress play from deep either through his splendid passing range or ability to carry the ball with purpose.
Here, Mac Allister picks up the ball from Konate before driving 20 yards up the pitch to play in Cody Gakpo out wide – from there his cross leads to a free header from Nunez in the box.
Especially in the absence of Trent Alexander-Arnold, the Reds were extremely reliant on ball progression and successful long passing from the triangle of Mac Allister and the two central defenders behind him.
The Argentine is most certainly trusted to break lines with his incisive passing, but often he can be used as a decoy for the diagonal longer balls from Van Dijk and Konate.
The formidable pair made 33 passes into the final third in that home victory, with Konate also registering the second most on the pitch at Bournemouth, which has done much to take a share of the creative responsibility away from Mac Allister.
Among the Premier League’s best
The data, in comparison to two of the league and even Europe’s leading holding midfielders, Man City‘s Rodri and Arsenal‘s Declan Rice, highlights just how well Mac Allister is holding up in this very challenging and unfamiliar role so far.
Alexis Mac Allister (red) vs. Rodri (blue) vs. Declan Rice (green) 2023/24 data, graphic created via DataMB
Fears over the 5’9″ maestro being potentially vulnerable in duels against more physical midfielders were certainly prevalent in his opening cameos in the role, yet he has a 85.6 percent duel success rate which trumps both of his rivals.
For a relatively small player, Mac Allister’s aerial duel numbers are sensational, winning 12 of his 15 battles in the air since returning from injury (80 percent).
The extremely positive duel and defensive action figures are very much reflected on the eye in recent performances, as his tenacity and determination to win individual battles continue to become assets in his game.
As further exemplified in the victory over Chelsea, in 90 minutes Mac Allister won six of his eight attempted tackles and 11 of his 19 ground duels.
Progressive carries is the single area in which the man in question doesn’t compete in comparison to the league’s elite ‘sixes’, partly due to his tendency for quickly released passes upon receiving the ball, much like Endo.
Achieving higher numbers than Rice in terms of both progressive and key passing signifies the early success in which Liverpool appear to have in their more possession-focused midfield rebuild, with more dynamic figures than last season’s ageing department.
Ultimately, Liverpool’s opening summer recruit is currently revelling in the finest spell of his Anfield tenure so far, in a period where his creative responsibility has been maximised in the absence of stars.
Whether Mac Allister is perceived as the long-term replacement for Fabinho in the holding position remains to be seen, but Liverpool possess a tremendously gifted midfielder with the wide skillset required to excel in whichever role he ends up beyond this season.