Five games, five wins and five points clear at the top of the table. It is all going rather swimmingly for Liverpool at the moment. The win against Newcastle was their fourteenth in a row in the top flight and they became the first team ever to do so scoring at least two goals in each of those fixtures.
The stat does hint at attacking riches and that sure is the case. The Reds are blessed with a front three as good as any that has graced the Premier League and their form from the previous season has carried over into the new campaign. The only concern offensively revolve around their off-days, like the one they had at Naples this week. Can the midfield provide the goals in these instances and take some pressure off the frontmen? On Tuesday’s evidence, no, and this has been a worry for quite some time now.
At the end of last season, I had written a piece on what Manchester City and Liverpool needed to do to build on their success. Fragility in the defensive ranks for the Sky Blues and a lack of creativity in the Reds midfield were cited as possible impediments. City’s failure to buy a centre-back and Aymeric Laporte’s injury have combined to throw a spanner into the works and the champions find themselves in a spot of bother already. The output from Liverpool’s forwards have masked the lack of threat from midfield and Jurgen Klopp must be praying that the trio stay fit, as they did last year.
They have scored every goal for the Reds this season, save for a couple of headers from Virgil Van Dijk and Joel Matip at corners. They count on each other and the two full-backs for the assists too. Granted that Liverpool are set up in a manner which requires the three midfielders to mainly provide cover outside the periphery of the eighteen-yard box, but they have missed a player who could arrive in tight areas and create something when required.
Both assists from a midfielder this season have relied on the forward creating something for himself. Salah tempted David Luiz into a rash challenge before winning a footrace in the game against Arsenal. This was after Fabinho had whipped one onto the right flank from well inside his own half. In the game against Southampton, Milner played an innocuous ball towards Mane in a non-dangerous position and the Senegalese took on a few defenders before unleashing a great effort from the edge of the box.
At some point this season, there is a chance that the exertions of the front three could catch up with them. They have featured in huge international tournaments for their countries over the summer in 2018 and 2019 and have hardly had a break. Liverpool must have solutions if this were to be the case, and it may then be time for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to step up. He was coming on nicely after his move from Arsenal, but that horrific knee injury against Roma last year thwarted his progress. He is slowly getting back to his best and a confident Ox could add another dimension to the Reds’ midfield play. The two goals against City in his first season at the club showcased the sort of quick feet, directness and power that the team could use in the attacking third.
A lot of hopes were pinned on Naby Keita to be that type of player but his injury woes pile up way too frequently for him to be a reliable option at the moment. Georginio Wijnaldum used to have goals in the locker, especially during his time at PSV Eindhoven and Newcastle United, but has since morphed into a player who is content sticking to the holding brief provided to him at Liverpool. The same goes for the captain, Jordan Henderson. He may have implored Klopp to play him as a number eight last season, and does a very good job of it. A goal threat, however, is not something he regularly carries.
Alex was bought in on deadline day in August 2017 to be the player who could make a difference in the final third. A deal for Keita to join the following season had been signed only a few days prior, and it was clear that Klopp was looking at these two players to provide a creative edge in midfield. The fact that both of them have not had an extended run in the team yet due to injury might be the reason why the manager decided not to dip into the transfer market this season. The hope was that they would finally arrive on the big stage, injury free. Keita, unfortunately, continues to be on the treatment table but Oxlade-Chamberlain has a chance to make a starting spot his own in the meantime. It is there for the taking if he wants it.