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Liverpool have two midfield undroppables as new Jurgen Klopp issue emerges

Not for the first time, there was a press conference question that left Jurgen Klopp somewhat puzzled last week.

Asked how he felt about having a fully fit squad of players to choose from for the first time since August before Thursday’s win over Leicester, Klopp’s face painted a picture of bemusement.

“What do you mean ‘in August?'” Klopp responded. “We had a full squad available in August? I can’t remember that.

“I actually can’t remember any time in my career when that happened so I am really cautious about talking about it. I don’t like it too much.

“But, yes, Jordan Henderson has a bit of back trouble from the last game, Sadio Mane is not here, so what is a fully available squad? But yes, neither issue is long term, that’s good.

“We have to use that. That is the responsibility now. It is not about who is playing but how we play.”

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Perhaps no other area of ​​the Liverpool side provokes as much debate as the midfield – whoever is fit and ready to put in a shift.

With a largely settled five back, few will argue what constitutes the strongest set of options at the back, particularly now Joel Matip is holding up free of injury.

Up top, it’s largely five into three now following the signing of Luis Diaz, while Takumi Minamino and Divock Origi wait in the wings if needed.

It is the center of the park that provokes the most heated debate where Liverpool’s team is concerned.

And at a time when everyone is ready to report for duty, perhaps there has never been a more lively time for such a discussion.

So, just what represents Liverpool’s ‘best midfield’ right now?

A horses-for-courses attitude is likely to be the approach from Klopp and his backroom staff when they select the engine room that they feel can best exploit the opposition’s weaknesses.

Fabinho

With that said, however, Fabinho, when fit, will be a regular at the base.

The Brazil international has established himself in the same realm as Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker for defensive game-changers at Anfield and there are few better holding midfielders in European football than the man known as ‘Liverpool’s lighthouse’.

With five goals in seven games too, the No.3 has added a new string to his considerable bow; his half-dozen total this term is the highest of any Liverpool midfielder.

Only Jordan Henderson has played more than Fabinho’s 2090 minutes this season across all competitions and his standing in the eyes of Klopp means he is a shoo-in when fit.

Thiago Alcantara

Thiago Alcantara’s biggest issue during his 16 months at the club has been an inability to remain fit on a long-term basis and he’s already been blighted by muscle and COVID-19 issues that have seen him miss as many as 20 games already this term.

A first start in 2022 at home to Leicester on Thursday was ideal and a second-half cameo at Burnley helped extinguish the fight of the hosts for a what could yet be a vital 1-0 win.

As a two-time Champions League whose only other clubs have been Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Thiago arrived in September 2020 as one of the most decorated players of 2010s.

It hasn’t just been his own injury problems that have halted progress, of course, with the chronic issues at centre-back meaning he played just once last term alongside Jordan Henderson and Fabinho in midfield.

But there is now genuine hope that Thiago’s influence can be injected into this Liverpool team for a more sustained period.

Perhaps the biggest dilemma for Klopp to wrestle with then is the identity of just who makes the cut as the third man on the most consistent basis.

*RATE THE LIVERPOOL PLAYERS FOR THE WIN OVER BURNLEY:

Harvey Elliot

Harvey Elliott has been converted into a midfielder this season and the hopes are astronomical for the gifted teenager.

A long-term ankle injury will not be ignored inside the club, however, as they take a pragmatic and sensitive approach to a career that has so much promise.

Elliott’s adaptation to the right side of that midfield three back in August and September gave a mouth-watering glimpse into Liverpool’s long-term future.

But he will be handled with much care between now and the summer months given his lengthy absence has his season amounting to just 315 minutes so far – which is less than Tyler Morton.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has enjoyed a quietly strong campaign from a personal perspective.

The versatile former Arsenal man managed just 299 minutes last season but has already featured for over 1300 this term.

Oxlade-Chamberlain also offers the ability to play across the front three for Klopp, but it is central where he has enjoyed his best moments at Anfield.

While Fabinho’s curious purple patch marks him out as the top-scoring midfielder this season, it is surely the 28-year-old who is the biggest threat to opposition defenders in the long term.

Curtis Jones

Curtis Jones proved to be an important figure last month when the options were depleted by injury and AFCON and it appeared as though the 21-year-old was beginning to answer the call to turn promise into performance on a more consistent basis.

Never was that more apparent than the 2-0 win over Arsenal in the second leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final when a mature display helped tipped the scale in Liverpool’s balance to get them to Wembley.

Jones’ non-selection at Burnley is no reflection on his recent contributions and speaks more to the sheer weight of quality currently available.

James Milner

At the age of 36, Milner is still defying Father Time by operating at an elite side like Liverpool, but it is entirely fair to suggest the vice-captain is now a squad player who performs in cameos when required.

Klopp is hopeful of keeping him at the club beyond this season, but it will not be as a regular starter in the Reds’ midfield.

Naby Keita

Like Thiago, Naby Keita’s biggest question marks at Anfield have largely centered around the amount of time spent on the treatment table, but the return from the Africa Cup of Nations following Guinea’s elimination has seen him start two of the last three.

That included an encouraging display in the win over Burnley, a game that saw Keita in the same trio with Fabinho and Thiago for just the third time.

Their 33 minutes together as a collective was just two less than their combined time in appearances against Chelsea (19) last season and Newcastle (16) in December.

With Fabinho at the base and Thiago and Keita controlling proceedings with their quality on the ball, the ability to field all three regularly could add a new dimension to the team.

Jordan Henderson

Which brings us to Captain Henderson, whose patchy form goes on.

The skipper was sensational in December’s 4-1 win at Everton as he took the fight to the Blues in the Merseyside derby with a goal and an assist during a memorable result at Goodison Park.

Since that game, though, standards have dipped for the former Sunderland youngster.

Questions of over-exertion circled as Henderson started 11 games in a little over six weeks, but after missing the win over Leicester with some back trouble, the 31-year-old labored at Turf Moor.

Henderson completed less than 50 per cent of his passes in difficult conditions in Lancashire, which was comfortably below the other midfielders who ranged between 82 and 91.

The England international’s first-half booking was a moment that encapsulated an afternoon of frustration for him.

After taking a heavy first touch bringing the ball down, Henderson was forced to launch into a late challenge on Erik Pieters which promptly earned him a caution and caused an injury to himself.

His afternoon lasted less than an hour before he was withdrawn for Thiago.

Klopp may not remember the last time he had a full complement to choose from at Liverpool, but he is set to be given a new type of selection headache that he will be happy to get used to.

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