Last six or seven seasons have been hugely eventful on and off the field for Liverpool as the Reds have seen ownership changing hands, the start of Anfield redevelopment, four managers fired and some of Liverpool’s best players leave during the span. One such event saw Javier Mascherano join Barcelona in the summer of 2010 just 3 months after Rafa Benitez left Liverpool.
Ever since Rafa left, the Reds midfield has looked shaky and inexperienced. The fortress that Anfield was during the Spaniard’s time at Liverpool is just a distant memory now. The midfield trio of Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano was then considered as the best midfield in the world with two world class box to box midfielders controlling the game and a midfield destroyer in the form of the Argentine maestro. Liverpool were although not setup to be an attacking side under Benitez, the Reds’ overall defensive structure was as effective as any other team’s backline in the Premier League.
Seven years on since Rafa left Liverpool and one of the major immediate challenges Jurgen Klopp has is to solve the Reds’ defensive troubles. While for some, Liverpool’s ever changing backline is the reason for their recent substandard defensive records, the dearth of a genuine defensive midfielder has cost Liverpool badly too. Liverpool have conceded 1.2 goals per game in the Premier League after Mascherano’ departure and things have kept on going worse for the Reds’ defence as they conceded 1.3 goals per game in the league since 13-14.
Chelsea’s impressive defensive record this season can be attributed to the collective effort of their midfield and defence and not just their backline as they have arguably the best two defensive midfielders in the world in Nemanja Matic and N’golo Kante. Lucas Leiva has been with Liverpool for almost ten years now. While nobody can question the Brazilian’s professionalism and integrity, the reds could never find in Lucas a midfield dominator who could solve Liverpool’s problems in the position.
While Liverpool have an abundance of talent in central midfield in the form of Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum. Emre Can and Marko Grujic, all these are suited to more advanced midfield positions than the number 6 role. Liverpool this season have only two defensive midfielders in the form of Lucas Leiva and Kevin Stewart. While Lucas is 30 now and about to leave the reds coming summer, Kevin Stewart does not look ready to be handed the big responsibility of helping their defence in Premier League and Europe. Moreover, Klopp will try to go back to his tried and tested 4-2-3-1 formation in the coming seasons as soon as he has the right players to do so and for that, the German will need a specialist number 6.
Amongst many positions to be strengthened at Liverpool, the defensive midfield position remains one of the most crucial ones. It’s about time Liverpool find their man who’s proficient in doing the dirty work in front of the defence and Jurgen Klopp will have to unearth another hidden gem in the upcoming summer transfer window.