LIVERPOOL’S centre midfield drove me mad on Wednesday night. But let’s start by saying this:
At least you remember Emre Can played.
One of the big pluses of Can is that you always remember him, you always know he was there. He might do your head in, but he is there and he wants to take responsibility. I think this is the first thing we should want from our footballers, from our fellow humans really. People who want to take responsibility for the cause. That’s Can for better or worse.
On Wednesday night he held onto the ball far, far too long — something I think he is wont to do — he showed a lack of urgency, didn’t screen his defenders very well and hugely underperformed. But at least you saw him underperforming.
In contrast, too often this season Gini Wijnaldum has glided through games barely registering. Occasionally the notion he is doing work that is unseen, or hard to see, emerges and perhaps that is sometimes the case. But the suspicion remains that most of the time when you don’t see Wijnaldum doing much it is because he isn’t doing much.
Away from home, at times, he fades even further from view and he hasn’t added more goals to his game this season. There is just the suspicion that when Rome is burning Wijnaldum isn’t carrying buckets of water.
There has been lots talk this season about Jordan Henderson and his perceived shortcomings. Some of it fair (he’s been a bit out of sorts, occasionally overrun in centre midfield, sometimes over complicates in the tackle and may switch off from time to time), much of it not and an unhealthy amount of what is not is expressed in downright insulting and derogatory ways.
The reasons for the savage invective seem a little vague but quite possibly because a lot of people have never liked him, a lot of people don’t like that he has succeeded Steven Gerrard as captain, some feel he symbolises something about “modern Liverpool” and for some there is just a wilful, malevolent ignorance of his abilities. In short it may well just be that some people aren’t very nice and have rubbish jokes.
But look at these three footballers another way —Can has been backed by two really good Liverpool managers and has got himself a load of caps for Germany and there is interest in him from the Italian champions and last season’s Champions League runners up.
Wijnaldum has been bought by Jürgen Klopp, picked pretty regularly and also finds himself just shy of 50 caps for his country.
Henderson was bought by Kenny Dalglish, has got regular games for him, Brendan Rodgers and Klopp, has been backed by Gerrard as a Liverpool captain and has captained his country.
The facts are these — they are pretty good footballers. Some of the best in the world. The facts are they all good enough to be regulars in a side which finishes in the top four — all three played when Liverpool were frightening in attack last season and have played when that has been the case this campaign.
Can did an excellent job alongside Lucas Leiva in closing out our top four finish. This all literally happened last season. Henderson has been an important player in the only Liverpool side to retain an interest in the league title on the final weekend of the season since 1990. They have all excelled in a Liverpool side which has given every team in the country a game and got 76 points. These things are inarguably true. What’s also true is that at the very highest level each of these players have weaknesses.
That they have flaws at a genuinely elite level is no surprise. Xabi Alonso had flaws during his Liverpool career and indeed his third and fourth seasons have faded from memory while his first (at home), second and fifth remain prominent. Javier Mascherano’s passing was often very poor, as was Momo Sissoko’s. Gerrard had some poor games especially in a deep-lying midfield role, managing to play Thierry Henry in one on one twice in his career and Didier Drogba once. The greatest midfield in the world.
However those midfielders were genuinely brilliant, were a great blend and were often set up in a way which covered each other. They were also (even Sissoko) the star men regularly and they were meant to be the star men by their manager. This isn’t the case for the current crop. The stars play ahead of them and they really are stars. The job of Liverpool’s current centre midfield is in part to get out of the way and be the supporting cast whereas Alonso was to be the main man.
That isn’t the way Klopp is going about his business. Indeed what the invective around Henderson in particular has done is block legitimate questions around the midfield setup (and the setup across the pitch) at times. If Henderson is just fucking shit then Liverpool’s midfield issues are easily answered by not playing the lad who is fucking shit. However he isn’t and they patently aren’t.
At times he is left with far too much to do, far too much for almost any player to do and the space around him is vacated by his teammates. He hasn’t been given the chance to play in a midfield two in a 4-4-2 unlike Can and Wijnaldum but instead appears to be given the greatest responsibility of being a one-man band.
It was infuriating watching that midfield against West Brom. Another draw, another wasted opportunity. Two more points dropped. Liverpool could well end this season with a home record akin to played 19, won 12, drawn seven. The record they got in 2008-9 when Alonso, Mascherano and Gerrard allied themselves brilliantly.
Henderson may not be good enough to play as the deepest lying midfielder in a side which has title-winning ambitions. That’s possibly true.
Might be, might not be.
But he isn’t Liverpool’s biggest problem in the middle of the park and, as Wednesday night showed, his being on the bench isn’t a panacea which solves those problems.
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Gini has been infuriating this season. I’m now thinking that he is under strict instructions from Klopp never to lose possession thats the only thing I can think of to mitigate for what he does (or rather what he doesnt do) One can only hope Lallana comes back in and picks up form quickly to replace him. At least his first thought is to move the ball forward, either with a run or a quick pass. Whether both Lallana and Coutinho can play in the same (lightweight) midfield is another matter.
They can’t play in the same midfield. It’s a ridiculous suggestion. And what form is it that Lallana is meant to pick up, but he was absolutely awful from January on last season.
Lallana will rightly walk straight back into this team. If you can’t see what he brings I honestly do not know what to say to you.
“And what form is it that Lallana is meant to pick up, but he was absolutely awful from January on last season.”
Can’t believe I’ve read that. Returned from injury against Watford, having missed 5-6 games, and was excellent, scored on the final day to secure a 3-0 victory which secured us Champions League football. That’s just two things which spring to mind immediately. He’s a class act.
Even at our strongest our centre-mid is a Frankenstein’s mess of ill-fitting attacking-mids and utility players.
Imperative we sign at least two specialist centre-mids/DM in the Summer. Half way there with Keita.
A really fair and balanced article, Neil. I think the idea of players being a great, or poor, blend (in any area of the pitch) is a really important one that tends to get ignored because it wastes valuable ranting time that could be used to slag individuals off instead.
Henderson-Wijnaldum-Lallana worked so well last season in part due to form but also because they have complementary strengths. I think we’ve badly missed those 3 together, especially at home against low-block teams.
I think you could even say that the same thing goes for Milner playing left back and the understanding he had with Coutinho.
That midfield 3 worked because the front three were on fire. No other reason.
Interesting, but nonsense
It’s striking the difference between the Mascherano, Alonso, and Gerrard midfield and the current midfield. In the former, each was world class at some thing (or several things in Gerrard’s case). In the current setup, all three of Hendo, Gini, and Can are jacks of all trades and masters of none. All are solid defending, passing, and dribbling, but — other than a rare Can masterstroke — none are likely to change a game. A team can deal with one of those in the midfield, but I think having three is a setup for mediocrity.
Great shout that…
the manager has to many toys to play wih now,can not chose which one to use,good job gini not in the army.he always awol,.get back to basic,go a again
Can & Wijnaldum were excellent against Spartak Moscow, then abject against WBA. I’ve never been a fan of Henderson, but playing as the deepest midfielder definitely doesn’t suit him. A few years ago he put crosses in & had regular shots. Playing deeper seems to have taken any attacking intent out of his game. Lallana is a massive miss for me, starts off the press & often sets the tempo.
He doesn’t start the press. Firmino does. Lallana hasn’t been missed at all. He’s been replaced in the team by Coutinho moving into his attacking mid role. There’s no position in the team for Lallana.
Also funny that you say he’s a massive miss given how poor he was in the second half of last season.
Lallana is pivotal to everything this midfield wants to be.
“There’s no position in the team for Lallana.”
It’s times like this that make me glad we have a professional football manager in charge of our club and that fans have no say whatsoever.
Neil so you spend all your time researching stuff that will defend Gini Henderson Can when they are rubbish and Klopp can’t get it right I hope you’re not being paid to do this because that will be diabolical anybody who tries to put Henderson next to Gerrard needs to …
Can is nowhere near midfield in the proper Germany national team Gini is part of a Dutch team that cannot qualify for the world cup well Henderson …
There are many ways to catch a fox whatever way you choose just make sure you catch the effing thing but if you don’t then people will rightly question your methods.
I don’t care if Gini is an efficient invincible machine and Can is something that the naked untrained eye cannot see and Hendo is a different type of Gerrard do we have the results to show for it yes !!!! TOP FOUR! !!!
A car uses round tyres that is the norm now you say you have oblong tyres and they will work better than round ones Jesus!!! we are on to something here if it works you are on your way to immortality if it doesn’t you will look a right idiot, let’s not try to reinvent the wheel let’s keep to the basics with a few modifications and adaptations then it will work
Neil go and read Didi’s thoughts today and go figure
Thank you., good article that.
I’m tired of Hendo getting slated. If you asked all Liverpool 1st team players I’m sure they’d want him in the starting line up every week.
He always supports his team mates by creating angles to receive and gives 100% effort for 90 mins.
His passing range is top drawer too.
Fantastic article Neil. In a game with such a spectrum of opinions on almost topic, it’s rare to read a piece where (to borrow a Guttmann-ism) you’re in violent agreement with every single word.
No one has to love how he plays all the time, but I’ve never ever been able to understand why so many people seem to genuinely despise our captain. You’re right when you’ve said on the podcasts that the vitriol towards him makes a rational, grown-up conversation almost impossible, but I think you’ve had a bloody good go at presenting a rational, grown-up side of the story anyway. Well done.
Another laughable defence of Henderson from his main fan boy.
Good to see you still pushing the same nonsense about Can “taking too long on the ball”. That’s a lie YOU made up and have pushed. It’s just further evidence that while you may speak well, you know nothing about football.
Who stole the jam out of your donut Paul? I assume you pay for a subscription, yes? So, you’re basically assisting Neil financially to write these words that you so clearly disagree with. Do you see what I’m getting at here…
Lets not forget PC, Mane have been pretty shite of late, (fair weather players). That doesn’t help.
As a comment above said about, Can, Gini & hendo being jacks of all trades, masters of none. You could say thats what JK wants.
Managers get to me. They make a simple game difficult
Can does indeed keep looking to get involved no matter how he’s playing and it’s admirable in many ways,but at the same time I can’t help feel it stems from a weakness of his,and that’s his delusion. The player he is in his own head is streets ahead of the one he is in reality and Henderson is not just a better player than Can because he can do more but also because he knows what he can’t do. Can could be a much bigger asset if he accepted he’s a functional player but him thinking he’s Zidane with better hair makes the Premier League too quick for him and the fact that he’s still making the same mistakes he was making when he first arrived,coupled with Juventus willing to take a punt on him,makes me think that we’re not going to see any narrowing of the gap between the delusion and the reality.He’ll leave in the summer with the cult following he’s gathered from his style over substance performances but in reality he’ll never become the player his fan club expect him to become because he does absolutely nothing to an elite level. If Klopp really wanted him to stay we should of given him his release clause, because no club even close to us in size would have activated it.
You can analyse, quote stats, search for qualities and rave and rant about rotation until the cows come home but the harsh reality is that Liverpool’s midfield, individually and collectively, are just not good enough to play for a team challenging for honours. There is a player in all of them if you watch for long enough, but it’s consistency that separates good players and elite players at any level. Our midfield are consistently inconsistent, and that’s why when the medals are given out we’ll be towards the middle of the queue. The only way to resolve the situation is a change in personnel. I’ve no doubt Henderson is a consummate pro and all round nice guy but I don’t see leadership in him and I don’t see what he brings to the team. He’s a very average player in my humble opinion. A player with the energy levels and responsibilities that Henderson has should be dictating play. He doesn’t. He rarely has any influence on the game. No need for derogatory remarks or snide insults, he’s just not for me based on what I see week in and week out. Can is just very inconsistent. Maybe he would show more consistency playing with better players. His international form appears to be more consistent than his club form and that could be a decent indicator. Gini flatters to decieve. He’s not a bad player at all. He plays simple football but needs to consistently find another gear if he’s to succeed at the highest level. As a team, when we are good we are bloody brilliant, when we are bad we are bloody awful. It’s all about consistency and the more quality you have in your team the more consistent they’ll become. Do just a little bit more quality in the transfer window please Jurgen. FSG get your hand in your pocket #consistency
Agreed with you till the end bit Klopp said funds were available but there were no players to buy or more specifically there were no ideal alternatives to the ones which were not available on the market so FSG are exonerated in that respect
Henderson is a pretty good way of telling who knows absolutely fuck all about football.