Man­ager Klopp wres­tles with Liver­pool’s mid­field dilemma ahead of Fulham test

Gulf Times Sport - - FOOTBALL -

As Jurgen Klopp tries to main­tain Liver­pool’s chal­lenge for the Premier League ti­tle, the need to sort out his mid­field is be­com­ing an in­creas­ingly press­ing is­sue. A home match against bot­tom club Fulham to­day may just of­fer the op­por­tu­nity to start to put that right by giv­ing both Naby Keita and Fabinho cru­cial game time to build mo­men­tum and con­fi­dence.

Both play­ers were signed at great ex­pense dur­ing the sum­mer with a view to strength­en­ing Liver­pool’s mid­field op­tions. Keita was seen as a re­place­ment for the at­tack­ing guile of Philippe Coutinho while Fabinho was viewed as the player to prove a de­fen­sive shield fol­low­ing Emre Can’s de­par­ture.

Nei­ther has yet man­aged to es­tab­lish them­selves as a pow­er­ful pres­ence in Eng­land, with Reds boss Klopp re­ly­ing largely on the play­ers used last sea­son.

Klopp has sug­gested both sign­ings need time to set­tle in a new coun­try, with Guinea in­ter­na­tional Keita ar­riv­ing from Ger­man club RB Leipzig, and Brazil­ian Fabinho join­ing from French Ligue 1 side Monaco.

While it is un­der­stand­able that nei­ther player would hit the ground run­ning, the need for them to find form has be­come more ur­gent, given the lack of cre­ative spark in Liver­pool’s mid­field.

If the front three of Mo­hamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sa­dio Mane have failed to hit last sea­son’s heights, the same is true of the mid­field, where the in­jured Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been sorely missed.

Liver­pool de­fender Andy Robert­son has seen the dif­fer­ence for him­self. “Last sea­son ev­ery­one was used to us scor­ing four or five goals. That can’t be pos­si­ble every sin­gle game,” Robert­son said. “Maybe we are miss­ing a bit of a spark in terms of not win­ning 4-0 or 5-0 in most games but if the man­ager thinks that then we need to try to get it back. We need to come to­gether as a team and try to give what the gaffer wants, try to get the spark and try to win games more com­fort­ably.”

Liver­pool, cur­rently third in the Premier League, have not been as threat­en­ing a force as they were last sea­son en route to the Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal. The mid­field has looked par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble in their past two matches, a 1-1 Premier League draw at Arsenal last Satur­day and a sur­pris­ingly meek 2-0 Cham­pi­ons League group de­feat at Red Star Bel­grade on Tues­day.

Nei­ther Keita nor Fabinho played in Ser­bia, while their other ma­jor out­field sign­ing of the sum­mer, Xher­dan Shaqiri, was left in Eng­land, amid con­cerns about the re­cep­tion he would re­ceive from the home sup­port­ers be­cause of his Koso­van her­itage.

Klopp’s three-man mid­field on Tues­day failed to dis­tin­guish it­self, with ham­string in­jury vic­tim Jor­dan Hen­der­son clearly missed. James Mil­ner’s er­ror led to the home side’s sec­ond goal, with Ge­orginio Wi­j­nal­dum shrugged aside too eas­ily be­fore Mi­lan Pavkov scored.

Adam Lal­lana, mak­ing a rare start, was anony­mous. Fabinho was an un­used sub­sti­tute in Bel­grade, hav­ing strug­gled against Arsenal, and is clearly not up to speed with the English game yet. Keita started well in Eng­land, then hit in­jury prob­lems, as he suf­fered a back spasm dur­ing Oc­to­ber’s Cham­pi­ons League de­feat by Napoli, and a ham­string prob­lem play­ing for Guinea.

Klopp has shuf­fled around his mid­field this sea­son, but ap­pears re­luc­tant to re­peat the ex­per­i­ment he tried in Septem­ber’s Premier League win over Southamp­ton, when Shaqiri was used in an ad­vanced mid­field role. The Switzer­land in­ter­na­tional was sub­sti­tuted at half-time that day, be­cause Klopp felt the match was too open.

His best hope of reg­u­lar game time now would ap­pear to be as part of the at­tack­ing three, which means dis­lodg­ing Salah, Firmino or Mane. Fabinho still has work to do to earn his start­ing spot too.

Keita, though, will surely be­come a reg­u­lar once he gets up to speed and a meet­ing with strug­gling Fulham could be the ideal place to start.

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