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Liverpool's most exciting midfield must change to have future under Klopp

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Jurgen Klopp has established a degree of trust amongst Liverpool supporters since taking charge in 2015, whereby the fans trust his instinct and have ultimate faith in his decision-making ability. That is, until he opts to start Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the same midfield.

The German boss usually selects Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum as his pairing to play ahead of Fabinho. When one is absent, the other is almost certain to play. On five separate occasions in all competitions this season, though, Klopp has deployed Keita and Oxlade-Chamberlain as a duo and although Liverpool won every contest, the common perception has been that the experiments haven't worked.



Henderson and Wijnaldum are understood to offer leadership, protection, compactness, reliability and discipline, whereas Keita and Oxlade-Chamberlain are described as more offensive, attack-minded and less industrious.



Deploying both is deemed to be excessive as they aren't considered as defensive enough, but why?



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Keita averages 27.8 pressures per 90 in the Premier League this season, while also posting 1.5 interceptions per 90. Oxlade-Chamberlain isn't far off, posting 23.9 pressures and 1.4 interceptions. The pair are likely to be benefiting slightly from playing fewer minutes than Henderson and Wijnaldum, but nevertheless, their defensive numbers are greater in comparison. The Dutch midfielder in particular only averages 15.5 pressures per 90.

So without the ball, Keita and Oxlade-Chamberain seem active - even more so than Klopp's preferred pairing who are widely recognised as better defensively. The issue, rather than being associated with defending, instead seems to be related to attacking.

Keita completes more through passes per 90 than any other Liverpool player, and he places behind only Trent Alexander-Arnold for shot assists per 90. Oxlade-Chamberlain, similarly, places fourth in the squad for completed passes into the penalty box, and third for dribbles attempted per 90.

Keita registers an assist against Bournemouth by playing a through pass to Mohamed Salah

Those are generally positive numbers, but is it possible for a team to almost become too offensive?

The infamous front three at Anfield already take plenty of risks in possession, as do Klopp's two full-backs - Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson Henderson and Wijnaldum seem to prioritise balance and control in the centre of the park, but once those are replaced by Oxlade-Chamberlain and his Guinean teammate - the Reds become more threatening and as a result, more chaotic.

Henderson and Wijnaldum protect against counter-attacks by sitting deep and allowing teammates to attack

As a consequence of the two midfield men essentially trying to execute more daring things - possession is lost more often, turnovers happen with greater frequency, and Liverpool own their environment less so than normal.

The ball spends more time in transition than usual, and there are more opportunities for counter-attacks at both ends of the pitch.

The soon-to-be Premier League champions don't become defensively weak with Keita and Oxlade-Chamberlain, but they are prone to becoming too attacking. For Liverpool to retain enough equilibrium to cope with the two in midfield long-term, they will either have to accept more regulatory roles, or the system will have to be adjusted so that others - such as the full-backs - focus on preserving stability.

Regardless, it's a relatively nice dilemma for Klopp to explore considering it stems from having too many players who want to contribute to the attacking side of Liverpool's game.


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