Liverpool’s intensive press on the pitch has fans on the edge of their seats as the ball is pushed back towards the opponent’s goal. It has caused sleepless nights for the best managers and teams in the world, in anticipation of what a game at Anfield could hold for them.
And he has also, somewhat unfairly, classified the Liverpool team, particularly the midfielder, as a bunch of workhorses – players who leave everything on the pitch admirably, but are not particularly talented or technically gifted. . However, the record for Jürgen Klopp, and more historically, for Liverpool Football Club, is that there is always room for flair, quality and creativity, but that has to come with hard work.
Liverpool have been blessed with a number of magical players over the years. Technical talents able to fight their way through an obstacle course with the ball on their feet and come out of a five-a-side match without a drop of sweat on their heads.
In the 1980s, it was Dane Jan Molby who gave fans on Kop passes and moves to grade and train at Stanley Park. Since the Great Dane, Liverpool fans have been treated to John Barnes, Xabi Alonso, Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and more recently, Thiago Alcântara.
It was Thiago himself, in a recent interview with The Guardian, who claimed that the concept of players taking their time has been phased out due to the need to seek physical advantage:
“The number 10 has all but disappeared,” he said.
“We see less magic, less fantasy. Footballers do more, but faster. You don’t have to dribble because you are running. The players are more developed in every way.
You lose this player who is different, who “breathes”; the playmaker who was slower even if he had a sublime technique does not have the opportunity to turn. Those of us who aren’t that quick with our legs need to be faster with our heads. It’s like everything in life: adaptation.
Things continue to move forward. Football is constantly changing, expressing itself differently. “
Yet despite the presence of Thiago and Firmino in the squad, Klopp’s midfielders have been characterized by fans and pundits as lacking in creativity, and that the midfielder in particular serves a one-dimensional and functional purpose, which is to defend and facilitate the work of the full-backs.
In some ways, Liverpool midfielders fall victim to their own success, or at least the talents of their teammates. With a front line made up of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino, and the world’s best fullback duo, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, it is difficult for a midfielder to take center stage. . But even then, to say that Klopp’s Liverpool aren’t a place that encourages or has creative midfielders with flair isn’t true.
Klopp has a habit of promoting and nurturing his creative talents, even going so far as to build his teams around them. At Borussia Dortmund, Ilkay Gundogan and Mario Götze shone as stars of the squad.
Upon arriving at Melwood, Klopp focused on the Brazilian duo of Coutinho and Firmino and built their entire team around them.
Firmino, with his unique skills, was deployed as a false 9, while Coutinho got a free role on the left side. It wasn’t long before Coutinho was redeployed as a No.8, with all of Liverpool’s play channeled through him.
Coutinho’s close control and brilliant vision were coupled with the work ethic and pressing that made the team so great. The 2017/18 Liverpool squad that made their way to the Champions League final were, alongside the 2013/14 squad led by Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, arguably the most entertaining football that Anfield has known this century.
None of the key players on the 2017/18 squad were particularly physical or functional – they were skillful and talented, and those same attributes made the squad brilliant to watch.
Since Coutinho left, Liverpool have naturally lost these magical moments in the middle of the field. There was less nutmeg and sombrero slamming over the heads of rushing players.
Fabinho arrived soon after, and with the growth of Robertson and Alexander-Arnold, full-backs quickly became the main creators of the squad – not necessarily because the midfielder was devoid of creativity, but more again because the full-backs are unique and exceptionally talented.
In September 2020, Liverpool added Thiago to the ranks, perhaps the most technically gifted footballer the league has seen. His signing was a reaffirmation that technical skills, creative quality and flair are still as important to the manager and the club as they were before.
But players like Georginio Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson and Fabinho are proof that a Klopp midfielder was never really about ‘workhorses’.
Henderson was once an energetic box-to-box “racer,” a de facto “work horse” when he joined the club. Under Klopp’s tutelage, he reinvented himself as No.6 and more recently developed as No.8 on the right side, with creative instincts and skills beyond his ability to run and press.
Likewise, the way in which Wijnaldum was developed into No.8 and placed in positions where if he lost the ball the team would have been open to attack, showed that his technical ability and skill in not giving the ball away in these situations – never – makes him more than a “workaholic”.
As for Fabinho – the best defensive midfielder in the league – his technical ability is unmistakable, and like Wijnaldum, is at the heart of his way of playing, because without her he would be a handicap.
Technical capacities and skills are no longer just the prerogative of midfielders. In a team like Klopp’s Liverpool, every player on the pitch needs to be able to create chances and have perfect control of the ball. The modern midfielder is no less technical than before, but the players around him are technically far superior to their predecessors.
The 2020/21 season hasn’t offered many opportunities for players like Thiago to shine, with an ever-evolving squad and unexpected setbacks. But the coming season will be an opportunity for Liverpool players to reclaim this cultural heritage and make fun of the nickname ‘workhorse’.
A team that wins the Premier League and the Champions League the way this Liverpool side did rely on more than just hard-working midfielders – and the coming season will be a chance to prove it. one more time.