Interesting article by Tony Evans in The Independent that touches heavily on this favorite discussion topic here (role of midfielders re scoring goals):
Do Liverpool really need a goalscoring midfielder? The problem with Naby Keita
Liverpool fans want to see the best of Naby Keita but Jürgen Klopp's team is set up to attack through the full-backs, meaning his midfield is a place for tactical discipline and endeavour, not cutting edge in the final third
The clamour from Liverpool fans to see Naby Keita get an extended run in the team is growing. As good as Jürgen Klopp’s European Champions have been, there is a strong perception that the weakest department in the side is the midfield. Yet it would be a surprise to see the Guinean start against Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield on Sunday.
Klopp’s default trio are Jordan Henderson, Fabinho and Georginio Wijnaldum. They offer little goal threat. Last season, Henderson and Fabinho hit the net just once each in the league and Wijnaldum got three. The Dutchman has scored once in the first quarter of this campaign. From the sidelines it appears that Keita, with his surging runs forward, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose shooting prowess makes him a danger anywhere around the box, should be able to force their way into the team.
The 4-1 demolition of Genk in the Champions League appeared to endorse the point. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s two goals were spectacular and Keita’s creativity caught the eye.
Klopp always denies he has a favourite midfield three. “I like them all,” he says with characteristic enthusiasm. But it is not a question of who he likes. It is about who he trusts. James Milner is, for the moment, more likely to be slotted into the side when required.
The job of the midfield in this side is to provide balance. Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mo Salah have to be allowed to play to their potential. They need the freedom that comes with knowing there are hard-running colleagues behind them who will ensure there is cover when possession is conceded. They press defenders so ferociously at times that Liverpool could be susceptible on the break. The way Klopp sets up the side minimises the risk.
More importantly, though, the central three allow Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson to range forward at will. The wing backs are crucial to the way this team operate. That much is clear. What is less obvious is how much responsibility this places on the midfield. To do their job effectively, the full backs need to leave space behind them. This is the area that could be dangerous to Liverpool. Protecting Alexander-Arnold and Robertson might not be the most glamorous role but it is one of the most vital.
An obsession with Steven Gerrard hangs over Anfield. Henderson, whose career crossed over with the club legend, has always suffered by comparison. The 29-year-old was not bought to replace Gerrard, an impossible task, but to be part of a platoon of players to fill the void. There are plenty in the stands – and in the boardroom – who have never valued Henderson’s contribution. Klopp does.
Keita has suffered from the same syndrome. The obsession with finding an up-and-down goalscoring midfielder was part of the driving force behind buying the 24-year-old. Signing Keita from Red Bull Leipzig a year before his arrival on Merseyside only heightened the sense of anticipation about his potential effect on the team. So far he has been a disappointment.
Injuries have held him back but it is not that easy. Like many new arrivals in the Premier League from abroad he has struggled with the physicality of the game. In Germany he was quicker, more technically adept and stronger than the majority of his opponents. In England this has not been the case. It affected his confidence. In the words of one insider, “he saw his arse.”
The problem for Keita – and to a lesser extent Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has proven he can play in this division – is simple: do Liverpool need a goalscoring midfielder? They have won the Champions League and produced an outstanding 18 months of form without one. Any extra goals could be offset at the other end if the balance is disrupted. The midfield of Keita, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Fabinho that played in Genk is a seductive-looking trio but the Belgian side are one of the poorest teams in the Champions League. They have yet to win a game in the competition. It is easier to shine against Genk than, say, Tottenham.
What could change the situation is if the rest of the Premier League have finally worked out how to stop Liverpool. Manchester United did a good job of nullifying the full-backs in the 1-1 draw at Old Trafford last week. Mauricio Pochettino, a man eager to rebuild his fraying reputation, will undoubtedly turn up at Anfield on Sunday with a plan to stop Alexander-Arnold and Robertson. If opponents manage to kill Liverpool’s wide threat on a regular basis, Klopp will have to change the point of attack. Neutralising the full-backs is easier said than done, however.
The German needs to rotate to keep the side fresh. December and January will be exhausting months for the squad, with the Club World Cup in Qatar adding two matches that a team chasing their first title since 1990 could live without. Everyone in the squad will get their chance over the next three months.
Keita’s chances will come but they will likely be against teams that the manager considers weaker opponents. For now, the tried and trusted are a better option for Klopp.