Football | Liverpool’s tried-and-tested midfield

Liverpool are in ominous form.

The Reds beat Manchester City 3-1 at Anfield on Sunday to extend their lead at the summit of the Premier League to eight points.

Goals from Fabinho, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane secured a massive victory for Jurgen Klopp’s hosts, with Bernardo Silva’s second half goal for City proving to be a mere consolation.

Liverpool are now eight points clear of Leicester City and Chelsea, and nine clear of reigning champions City after just 12 league matches.

The European champions have taken 34 points from a possible 36, having played the other six members of the top seven. Overall, Liverpool have won 20 of their last 21 league matches.

There was much speculation over which combination of midfielders Klopp would select for the visit of Pep Guardiola’s team.

Many Reds fans were calling for the inclusion of in-form Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has scored four goals in his last four games for the Merseyside club.

However, Klopp opted for his tried-and-tested big-match midfield trio.

The triumvirate of Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum may not be Liverpool’s most creative midfield combination, but it is certainly Klopp’s most effective.

When Liverpool falter, it is generally the midfield that is targeted for criticism. When the Reds impress, it is usually the front three, the full backs and Virgil van Dijk who earn the plaudits.

This is a midfield, that – despite the criticism – has enabled Liverpool to win the Champions League and go toe-to-toe with Guardiola’s City over the past 18 months.

It was fitting, then, that the Liverpool midfield made such a decisive difference in the biggest game of the Reds’ season to date.

“It’s a physical battle in the middle of the pitch that City have lost. I’m talking across the years, we’ve just not been able to deal with that” – Vincent Kompany

Fabinho opened the scoring with a thunderous strike from distance in the sixth minute, just 22 seconds after Trent Alexander-Arnold handled the ball inside the area at the other end.

Fabinho took one touch before smashing the ball into the top corner from 25 yards following Ikay Gundogan’s feeble clearance out of the City box.

It was only the midfielder’s second goal for the Reds – and his first this season – but it could not have come at a better time, with City coming flying out of the traps at Anfield.

The Brazilian enforcer was deservedly named as man of the match for his commanding performance.

Liverpool doubled their advantage in the 13th minute with a wonderful goal.
Trent Alexander-Arnold switched the play with an excellent left-footed pass, finding the rampaging Andy Robertson on the left flank.

Robertson produced a pinpoint, bouncing cross to the back post, which the onrushing Salah headed calmly past Bravo to make it 2-0.

City continued to look dangerous in attack, forcing Liverpool to defend resolutely.
Possession is a precious commodity against a Guardiola team, and the Liverpool midfielders largely used the ball well.

Fabinho and Wijnaldum completed 39 of their 40 combined passes in the first half, and all three players provided a calming influence when on the ball.

Wijnaldum has so often popped up with massive goals for the Reds, but on Sunday, he was the only member of the midfield trio not to provide a goal or assist.  

However, the Dutch midfielder produced arguably his best performance of the season against City, keeping the ball under pressure, tirelessly plugging defensive gaps and using his ball-carrying abilities to launch counters.  

Liverpool captain Henderson, making his 250th Premier League appearance for the club, also led by example.

Henderson was a doubt for the game after struggling with a virus all week, but this was a captain’s performance from the England international.

The 29-year-old harried City players in possession, pressed relentlessly and tracked Raheem Sterling diligently. 

Once again, his tactical positioning wide on Liverpool’s right – see his average position below (number 14) – provides cover to Alexander-Arnold both in defence and in attack.

Six minutes into the second half, Henderson produced a moment of brilliance to set up the Reds’ third goal. He dribbled determinedly down the right channel before whipping a sublime cross to the back post on to the head of Mane, who powered his header past Bravo to make it 3-0.

On his 100th Premier League start for Liverpool, this was Mane’s 16th home league goal in 2019, and his 18th in his last 17 league starts at Anfield.

“One of the best crosses you will see. It’s not Trent Alexander-Arnold, it’s not Kevin De Bruyne, what an assist Jordan Henderson” – Gary Neville

Soon afterwards, he was in the right place to dispossess Sterling after the England winger was caught in two minds during a promising City counter.

Liverpool turned on the style in the early part of the second period, and to the crowd’s delight, Henderson engaged in a rare piece of showboating with a clever flick.

Henderson was withdrawn to rapturous applause on the hour mark, likely due to his illness during the week, with James Milner coming on to replace the Reds skipper.

City enjoyed far more success down the left following Henderson’s departure, with Angelino getting forward regularly from left back to join in City’s attacks, which rose in frequency as the second half wore on.

Klopp spotted the growing danger, but was left incensed on the touchline when he wasn’t allowed to introduced Oxlade-Chamberlain before City found the net in the 78th minute.

Admittedly, Fabinho could have done better in the build up to Bernardo Silva’s goal.

The midfielder went to ground in the box under pressure from Kevin De Bruyne, but referee Michael Oliver waved play on, with Silva applying a crisp finish to Angelino’s low cross.

Silva’s goal ensured a nervy final 10 minutes or more at Anfield, but the Reds defended resolutely to keep City at bay.

The final whistle was greeted by a deafening roar as Liverpool enter the international break on a high Klopp won’t get carried away, but he’ll be delighted with his team’s performance.

His tried-and-tested midfield have come up trumps in another big game.