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Football News : Genk 1-4 Liverpool Reds still searching for midfield balance – Stephen Warnock

Football News

BBC Radio 5 Live

Before kick-off, a lot of Liverpool fans were excited by the midfield trio that started their Champions League game against Genk but I was a lot less convinced.

And what happened in Belgium on Wednesday night showed how important it is to get that combination right, because in the first half it was not working.

With Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain and Naby Keita alongside Fabinho for the first time, Liverpool’s line-up was more attack-minded than usual in the middle of the pitch but, early on, they were also far too open.

In the end, the Reds ran out comfortable 4-1 winners to continue their fine start to the season, but Genk had plenty of chances before the break and a better side would have taken them.

Graphic showing Liverpool's starting XI vs Genk: Alisson; Milner, Lovren, Van Dijk, Robertson; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Fabinho, Keita; Salah, Firmino, Mane

Fabinho did not have enough help defensively

I understand why Liverpool supporters want to see more creativity in their midfield because they have struggled to break some sides down recently, but they should be careful what they wish for.

The way Jurgen Klopp’s teams operate, he needs industry in that area too.

By that, I mean players like Georginio Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson or James Milner, who are skilful enough tactically to press when the front three do, and drop back to help their defence as well.

That was not happening enough at the start of Wednesday’s game.

Oxlade-Chamberlain and Keita were getting ahead of the ball when Liverpool did not have proper possession, which meant they were both out of the game when Genk counter-attacked.

Overall, Oxlade-Chamberlain’s performance was still a big positive as he continues his comeback from the serious injury that saw him miss most of last season – he got more than 70 minutes in his legs and showed off all of his attacking qualities.

Oxlade-Chamberlain scores his second goal against Genk

What he does differently from the rest of Liverpool’s midfielders is shoot from the edge of the box, as he showed brilliantly with both his goals in Belgium. His second of the night was an outrageous finish.

As well as always looking to shoot, he drives past people and looks to commit opposition players – all of which is good news for Liverpool when they go forward.

But they still need to get the right players around him, because they need to make sure they stay solid enough too.

Fabinho has made himself first choice to sit in the middle of the three as the holding midfielder, whoever else is in there, but in the first half against Genk he did not have enough help defensively.

When their players ran past Keita, they stayed away from him because he was so lethargic. There were times when he was almost ambling back, and he did not seem to spot danger either.

I would actually play him further up the pitch on the left in the future, because he leaves gaps and does not track back very well.

Wijnaldum has more to offer going forward

Wijnaldum scores against Barcelona

I don’t think Klopp is short of options in midfield – he just needs to get the balance right.

For me, that depends on how good the opposition are. In certain games, you know he is going to go with industry over creativity. When Liverpool are playing Manchester City away, for example, Klopp will want to nullify City’s quality in midfield and make life very difficult for them.

But of course there are other games against teams in the bottom half of the table where the opposition have their whole team back behind the ball, and the task is to break them down.

That is where you need your creative players, which is where the likes of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Keita and Adam Lallana come in.

I still think Wijnaldum has lots more to offer as an attacking player too.

He has already emerged as one of the mainstays of the Liverpool midfield but he would be far more of a threat if he were given the same freedom he gets when he plays for the Netherlands.

Liverpool saw a glimpse of that last season with the timing of his runs into the box to score twice in the second leg of their Champions League semi-final win over Barcelona.

It is clear how highly Klopp rates him and I can understand why.

Wijnaldum is disciplined enough defensively to help keep Liverpool solid but, if you let him go forward the way I would like him to, he will cause the opposition lots of problems.

Klopp has got some big decisions to make

Snapshot showing top of Premier League table: 1st Liverpool, 2nd Man City, 3rd Leicester, 4th Chelsea, 5th Arsenal & 6th Crystal Palace

It feels like there are midfield places up for grabs in this Liverpool side, more so than any other department. Klopp has to decide who best complements each other.

In their next game, at home to Tottenham in the Premier League on Sunday, who he picks might also depend on how he thinks Spurs will line up.

If Tottenham play in a 3-5-2 shape then Klopp will want someone in midfield who can get between their lines to cause problems. You would think that someone would be Oxlade-Chamberlain – especially given the form he is in.

I would expect Wijnaldum to come back into the team too and with Fabinho cemented in the side, that would mean no place for Liverpool’s captain, Henderson.

That would not be a message that Henderson is out of favour, though. Far from it.

When you are part of a squad at a club like Liverpool or City, you have to understand that the team is being picked to win a specific game, and if you are left out it is nothing personal.

All of Liverpool’s midfielders are going to have a part to play in the next few weeks, especially if Klopp decides to rest some of them in certain games – but I would urge caution there.

Liverpool’s next game in Champions League Group E is at home to Genk on Tuesday 5 November, before they play champions Manchester City at Anfield five days later.

There will be plenty of people who will want Klopp to put out a weakened team against the Belgians, but my mind-set would be not to take any chances.

If I were a Liverpool player, I would want to go into the City game feeling sharp and I would not want a week off beforehand.

Klopp will know far more about their fatigue levels, however, and that is another area where he has got some big decisions to make

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