Talking Tactics

What Liverpool midfield must do to stop Arsenal

By Adrian Clarke 5 Apr 2023
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Adrian Clarke on how Jurgen Klopp's underperforming middle men can get something against the leaders

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Team analysis - Liverpool's midfield

Liverpool’s central midfield unit will be tested by a fluid, free-flowing Arsenal at Anfield this Sunday.

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It is an area which has been considered a weak link for Jurgen Klopp’s side this season.

Lacking continuity in terms of personnel and consistency in the quality of their performances, Liverpool have laboured at times across the middle third of the pitch.

Facing Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka and Martin Odegaard, who are all in outstanding form, has the look of an acid test.

Poor form and injury problems have affected Liverpool’s ability to grow partnerships in this key area of the pitch.

Since the turn of the year, Klopp has named eight different central midfield configurations over only 12 Premier League matches.

During the same period Arsenal have started their favoured trio in eight of 13 fixtures.

Liverpool midfield combinations 1 Jan~
Midfield combinations Matches 
Henderson-Fabinho-Elliott 2
Henderson-Fabinho-Bajcetic 2
Bajcetic-Fabinho-Elliott 2
Bajcetic-Thiago-Keita 2
Henderson-Fabinho-Jones 1
Henderson-Keita-Milner 1
Thiago-Fabinho-Elliott 1
Henderson-Fabinho-Thiago-Chamberlain 1

In a 4-1 defeat at Manchester City last weekend, Liverpool’s midfield were outplayed.

Klopp’s approach featured a narrow front three deployed to protect the team down the spine, but excellent passing and movement from Pep Guardiola’s side opened them up on numerous occasions.

John Stones inverted centrally from full-back to create overloads, and too often Liverpool’s wide central midfielders, Jordan Henderson and Harvey Elliott, were dragged high and wide to close down the ball.

This left Fabinho isolated down the middle of the pitch, with Ilkay Gundogan, Rodri and Kevin De Bruyne released into space as Man City moved the ball through the thirds.

There was so much time for Rodri to put his head up and pick a pass to City's forward players
Arsenal could have a lot of joy on Sunday if Liverpool's midfield is as open as this

At Anfield on Sunday, Xhaka and Odegaard will look to stay high, leaving Partey and the inverted Oleksandr Zinchenko at the base of Arsenal’s midfield.

If Liverpool do not get their positional organisation and decision-making right, this quartet has enough cohesion and class to cut  through Liverpool with their quality distribution.

Their central-midfield trio needs to be significantly more compact than at the Etihad Stadium.

Lack of attacking influence

One clear difference between the leaders and Liverpool has been the verve shown by their central midfielders in forward areas.

The Arsenal trio are willing to make vertical runs or interchange positions with team-mates, and have been elusive for opponents to pin down.

Klopp’s midfield has been pedestrian and predictable by comparison.

Arsenal/Liverpool midfield goals/ssists 
ARS Goals/ assists LIV Goals/ assists
Odegaard 17 Elliott 3
Xhaka 10 Henderson 1
Partey 3 Milner 1
Vieira 3 Oxlade-Chamberlain 1

Box-to-box duo Odegaard and Xhaka have created an impressive 88 chances in open play between them, with the former producing 51 and the latter 27 respectively. They have also been involved in 27 direct goal contributions.

With one goal and two assists, Elliott is Liverpool’s most productive central midfielder in an attacking sense.

Short on creativity, Klopp relies heavily on his front players to deliver in the final third.

Excelling at home

It has been a difficult campaign for Liverpool, but they have an excellent record at Anfield, winning nine of 13 matches.

That record includes victories against Man City, Manchester United and Newcastle United.

This encounter with Arsenal presents them with another opportunity to show how high their ceiling can be.

On paper though, it is the visiting team's midfield who look stronger.

To claim another home success at Arsenal’s expense, the starting Liverpool midfield must elevate their performance beyond that of recent fixtures.

Also in this series

Part 2: How Stones became Man City's new midfield star
Part 3: How Hodgson has taken the shackles off Palace

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