Liverpool transfer 'obsession' questioned as midfield options become clear

It was the question that wouldn’t leave Jurgen Klopp alone this summer.

After Gini Wijnaldum departed Liverpool on a free transfer for Paris Saint-Germain at the end of last season, the focus soon shifted on to who would replace the Dutchman in midfield.

But the nearer the clock ticked towards deadline day, the more the realisation dawned Klopp was happy to stick with what was already at his disposal.

Having, in his own words, been reduced to working with “two-and-a-half midfielders” earlier this month due to injury problems, the Reds boss was in danger of being boxed into a corner.

Opportunity, though, has instead knocked. And with injury worries eased, Klopp now has a selection headache of a more welcome kind ahead of the 239th Merseyside derby at Everton on Wednesday night.

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“The midfielders are great,” says former Liverpool winger Steve McManaman. “People had this obsession with replacing Gini Wijnaldum when we had about 17 midfielders already. It baffled me.

“I get that fans want to see money spent and big names come in, but you should only really sign players when you need to.

“Harvey Elliott did well at the start of the season, Curtis Jones has been in there, and when you throw in everybody else there is an abundance of midfielders.

“Once everybody is back fit, your guess is as good as mine over who is the best midfield and what the best formation is.

“It was encouraging to see the bench against Porto. It was probably the strongest we’ve seen at Liverpool in a real number of years.”

The last week has seen Thiago Alcantara produce his best form since arriving from Bayern Munich in September 2020, scoring in successive home wins against Porto and Southampton.

Thiago made his first Liverpool start in the Goodison derby last October only to suffer a knee injury the sidelined him for more than two months having been caught by a red-card challenge from Everton forward Richarlison.

And McManaman adds to the ECHO: “We have always known what a good player he is. It was just about adapting, I knew his English was good anyway. But he had a number of injuries.

“It’s all about staying fit and playing as many games as physically possible.

“You always have to give people time to adapt to new countries and COVID came along which made it a lot more difficult.

“You’ll probably see more from Takumi Minamino this season because it was hard for these new players not to be able to see their families, and they couldn’t see you when you were injured or got low.

“Hopefully if Thiago stays fit and there aren’t any silly challenges against him, we will see the best of him.”

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been another improving midfield performer in recent weeks having only started two games last season, with McManaman believing the Reds’ good run of form has allowed the 28-year-old to prosper.

“I think Oxlade-Chamberlain benefits from playing in a winning team and being confident,” he says. “It really helps him when the team is playing well and are winning games and he can have a good game.

“He does offer something a little bit different. He is far more pacey than some of the other midfielders, he always looks to move forward and the fact he can also play out wide right and drop his shoulder and take people on, that helps him.

“You notice what he brings to a game when he plays. I’m made up for him as he was flying before he had that injury against Roma, and it’s hard to take mentally.

“More importantly he is playing well. Football is a ruthless game and when others are injured, it’s an opportunity for others to come in and stake their claim and he’s certainly done that.”

Fabinho, Henderson and Milner are also vying for a start in midfield at Goodison for Liverpool, who have lost only one of their last 29 games in all competitions and stand just two points off Premier League leaders Chelsea while also progressing to the Champions League knockout stages and the Carabao Cup quarter-finals.

“It has been a very good season so far,” says McManaman. “We know why they were off the boil at times last year due to the injuries and the positional changes they had to make, so I’m not surprised they have clicked into gear once everybody is back.

“They set a really high benchmark along with Manchester City in previous season, so they should be up near the top of the tree.

“I can see why people were starting to become obsessed with Chelsea and City over the summer, but it did surprise me that not more people spoke about Liverpool as title challengers.

“I thought at the start of the season it would be City and Liverpool, and I may be wrong as Chelsea are flying, but we will see.”

Amazon Prime Video will be broadcasting 20 Premier League fixtures this season featuring two full rounds of fixtures on the November 30-December 2 and December 28-30, including Everton v Liverpool and Manchester United v Arsenal. Steve McManaman will be part of the Merseyside derby punditry team

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