The Midfield Puzzle

Day 1 of pre-season and Jurgen Klopp is left bemused and visibly agitated by persistent questions surrounding his current midfield.

He has always been a man to back the players who’ve brought him success, a man who prefers to look for solutions within his squad before dipping into the market. It’s a stance that doesn’t seem to have done much harm so far.

Liverpool will go into the 2022/23 season with at least eight senior central midfield options: Thiago, Henderson, Fabinho, Keita, Jones, Elliott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Milner. Tyler Morton was also called upon in meaningful fixtures last season and we’re yet to see which position new arrival Fabio Carvalho will settle into.

Despite this, there is an unremitting perception that the reds are light in the middle of the park. Some have called for not one but two new midfield additions to freshen up the squad in this window. The manager can’t fathom it: “So where is the need for a midfielder? The day when somebody comes to me and tells me why exactly.”

So where exactly does this notion come from?

There will be others who point to Jordan Henderson’s 57 appearances in all competitions last season, Fabinho not far behind on 47.

There are similar concerns about a perceived lack of goals from midfield. Liverpool notched 94 in the league last season, a total that sits in the top 10 all-time goal tallies of the Premier League era. Liverpool’s midfield three provide a function within a system that, quite clearly, doesn’t struggle for goals.

What causes so many to continually doubt a recruitment team and policies that are consistently proved right when it comes to the big decisions?

Is it an abiding fascination with shiny new things? The unrelenting desire for more (or different) even when the current crop is taking the club to heights we’ve never seen before?

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To Bellingham or Not??

There is, of course, the Jude Bellingham-shaped elephant in the room. This summer’s Erling Haaland move to Manchester City has effectively taken Bellingham off the market for the time being, but the 19-year-old is unquestionably on Liverpool’s radar.

There was palpable interest in Aurélien Tchouaméni from the club in June before we were ultimately gazumped by a huge financial package from Real Madrid. Liverpool are evidently prepared to invest in a midfielder if the profile fits, but is in no rush to do so unless it suits them.

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If Liverpool were to move for Bellingham in 12 months’ time, the picture is likely to look a lot different. Thiago will have reached 32 and Jordan Henderson will be 33. At the time of writing, Naby Keita is yet to agree on new terms on a deal that expires at the end of the season. James Milner will almost certainly be calling time on his illustrious career in a red shirt.

That will be a point at which the midfield becomes a genuine cause for concern, and is coincidentally a point at which Borussia Dortmund is likely to be more susceptible to a move.

A move for a midfielder in our immediate future would in all likelihood be a futile stopgap, which is not how this club has operated in the past and certainly doesn’t make a great deal of sense in this scenario. Harvey Elliott and Curtis Jones will no doubt feel they have a lot to add to this conversation in the coming year, and in a hypothetical yet plausible world where Jude Bellingham becomes available next summer, blocking their pathway in the short-term feels counter-productive.

Recruitment Starts with Patience

Liverpool’s recruitment team has proved that they are willing to wait for the perfect time to strike when it comes to new signings, Virgil van Dijk is a successful example.

There are exceptions to this, not least when Liverpool was jolted into action six months early by Tottenham’s interest in Luis Diaz, and when Ben Davies and Ozan Kabak were acquired amidst a defensive injury crisis 18 months ago.

The reality, though, is that the club prefers to take a longer-term view when it comes to adding to the squad. They monitor prospective targets years before making their move, then take decisive action when the time, price, and development potential align as they would wish.

In other words, don’t panic. This midfield ensured that Liverpool Football Club took part in every game possible last season, and got tantalizingly close to winning the lot. Closer than anyone has gone before.

If Jurgen Klopp is satisfied with his options going into the new campaign then we have surely seen enough evidence to be equally satisfied. He’s got plenty of credit in the bank in that regard.