The summer was all about Liverpool’s midfield rebuild and Saturday’s performance at Molineux was the biggest indication yet that Jurgen Klopp is still missing a specific type of player…
Alexis Mac Allister, Dominik Szoboszlai, Wataru Endo, and Ryan Gravenberch are all very capable footballers and signing all four in one transfer window for less than £150million combined was very good business from Liverpool. Out of the four, Endo – who didn’t come off the bench against Wolves – is the only player who can be classed as a defensive midfielder.
And that is the exact player this Liverpool side is crying out for. In the Bundesliga last season, Endo was one of the best in his position when it came to winning aerial duels, clearances, discipline (zero red cards, three yellows), and dribbles challenged. He is not an outstanding defensive midfielder and has been brought in to paper over the cracks after a failed attempt to bring in Moises Caicedo.
Selling Jordan Henderson and Fabinho was risky but justified given the money on offer and having lost his only two out-and-out defensive midfielders, Klopp had to bring in at least two like-for-like players to replace them. Gravenberch was bought from Bayern Munich on deadline day and is someone who can operate as a deep-lying midfielder who dictates play, but he is not a player capable of doing what Caicedo can and more importantly, what Liverpool are crying out for.
The Reds came from behind to beat Wolves 3-1 at Molineux, meaning they are now top of the Premier League. Having gone into half-time a goal down, they obviously showed great character and a few changes from Klopp completely changed the momentum, but the performance in the opening 45 minutes was extremely concerning.
Mac Allister had a difficult afternoon and was brought off at half-time. In the 45 minutes he played, the Argentine committed one foul, which he was booked for, was dispossessed once, and dribbled past twice. Overall, he epitomised everything that is missing from the Liverpool midfield.
Wolves played through a midfield three that could not deal with their pace in controlled possession and in transition, which would create far too many problems for a makeshift back four consisting of one regular starter, Andy Robertson. In fairness to Jarell Quansah, he looked solid and clearly has a lot of potential. His defensive partner Joel Matip, however, was put on toast by Pedro Neto, who is full of confidence and also made Joe Gomez look like a fool on more than one occasion.
Klopp does not only need a destroyer in midfield to solidify that area of the pitch but also to protect a ropey backline that looks extremely shaky when at its ‘best’.
Wolves exposed every frailty in a Liverpool team that is going to concede almost every week. Hell, they have one Premier League clean sheet in their last seven matches. Thankfully for Klopp, he has a group of forwards and attacking midfielders capable of carrying him to victory.
Performances like the one against Wolves are absolutely not sustainable for a club chasing a Premier League title and the result could have been completely different if Matheus Cunha did not mess up an absolute sitter from inside the six-yard box while his team were 1-0 up.
Cunha caused problems, Neto was on fire and new signing Jean-Ricner Bellegarde gave that attacking-minded midfield three far too many problems. Wolves didn’t just sit behind the ball and try to hurt Liverpool on the counter, they were confident in possession and it’s fair to say they were the better team in every single department in the first half. Living off ifs, buts, and maybes is a very naive thing to do, but that Cunha chance is the difference between a win and dropped points for Liverpool.
It is painfully clear that the lack of the player we are rattling on about is needed is the reason Wolves were on top for the entire opening 45 minutes. Unfortunately for Gary O’Neil, it will be another week where he will be extremely disappointed to leave with nothing. Stewing on that for an entire weekend will make it even worse.
While the Reds’ flaws are clear as day, the positives of that performance will outweigh it for many – even if the negatives are bound to catch up with them.
Mohamed Salah had a quiet afternoon, yet he popped up with two assists (the third goal would have been another but Harvey Elliot’s shot was not goal-bound), Cody Gakpo also did nothing except tap the ball in to equalise (with his last touch), Diogo Jota provided a moment of magic in the build-up to Liverpool’s first goal, Darwin Nunez once again came on to provide a threat, and Luis Diaz caused the Wolves defence many problems.
Take all of those attackers into account and then add the midfield dynamism of Szoboszlai, and Liverpool will be the most feared attacking team in the Premier League until Kevin De Bruyne returns for Manchester City.
Is attack the best form of defence? Or is relying on outscoring your opponents every week completely unsustainable and likely to catch up on you? At this level, the answer is obvious.
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