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AFCON Absentees Can Be Blamed for Arsenal Draw, but Deeper Midfield Problems Exist at Liverpool


It wouldn’t have surprised many when Jurgen Klopp offered a lack of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Naby Keita as the main reason why his side could not defeat 10-man Arsenal in the first-leg of the Carabao Cup Semi-Final. And, in many ways, of course, it was a justifiable excuse. Take a player of Salah’s calibre, in particular, out of any side, and you’ll notice a difference. However, upon taking a deeper look at Liverpool, you’ll realise that deeper problems lie in the midfield.

Deeper Midfield Problems Exist at Liverpool

Jordan Henderson’s Form is Becoming a Problem

The Reds were blunt for just the second time this season – and the first at Anfield – against Arsenal. Klopp’s men never looked like finding the back of the net, even as Takumi Minamino approached a bouncing ball in front of a vacant Kop end goal in the final stages. What makes matters worse, is that you saw it coming when the line-ups were released.

The fact is, a starting midfield of Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, and a 36-year-old James Milner will rarely create or break down a defending side. Henderson has particularly struggled as of late in both aspects of his game, with Thiago Alcantara’s absence becoming more and more glaringly noticeable.

Thiago is Becoming a Big Miss for Liverpool

Of course, there was always going to be a drop off in quality from a player of Thiago’s ability. On form, he is one of the best midfielders around. But, no one could have foreseen such an inability to control games going both ways without the Spaniard.

When comparing both Henderson and Thiago’s numbers – according to Squawka – the drop off becomes even more worrying. Per 90, Thiago makes 26.3 forward passes, whilst Henderson completes 22.7. The former Bayern Munich man also has a far greater passing range, with 5.1 successful long passes per 90, compared to Henderson’s 3.4. This often allows Liverpool to break more efficiently or to recycle the ball and break the type of repetitive play we saw against Arsenal. A take-on success of 63.64% also allows for added creativity.

Meanwhile, defensively, Henderson is found wanting again compared to his teammate. When once more looking at stats per 90, Thiago makes more tackles, interceptions, blocks, and wins more ground duals than the aforementioned Liverpool captain. When Thiago is on the pitch, the Reds’ ability to suffocate teams with constant pressure is far more apparent. And that’s crucial when breaking down low blocks.

The Solution

In the long-term, the hope for Liverpool will be to finally have an injury-free version of Thiago at their disposal. But, whilst we’re thinking realistically, Jurgen Klopp must find a solution; a solution which could come in the form of a role-change for Henderson.

Far too often, we are seeing the midfielder leave his defensively disciplined role for a more forward-thinking approach – leaving an unceremoniously large gap in his place. And, whilst his role on the right of midfield offers Trent Alexander-Arnold some support, against Arsenal, especially, Henderson seemed more of a hindrance than a helping hand.

If Klopp wants to add creativity to his midfield – which will be needed in the absence of Salah and Mane – then pushing Henderson forward is not the answer. A player of Curtis Jones’ or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s expertise could be. So, perhaps bringing Henderson back to a disciplined role closer to Fabinho, and allowing the creative plays to simply do what they do, and create, may just solve what could become a major problem at Anfield.

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