Midfield experimentation

Experimentation. An idea forced upon me having been sacked as manager of Wigan Athletic following a refusal to adjust ‘team dynamics’.coutinho

Experimentation. An idea that arose during a tough season on FIFA 16 career mode as head coach of the League One Latics and an idea that alerted me to the fact I could be spending my free time in a far more productive way.

The lessons learnt as a manager on a video game quickly evolved into lessons that could be applied to the upcoming Premier League season for Liverpool.

As new faces arrive on Merseyside, the fresh tactical options begin to emerge. Jurgen Klopp is building a squad that promises to leave many drooling over the number of different starting line ups the German could go with.

Where can Phil work his magic?

Positioning Philippe Coutinho anywhere other than behind the striker would usually be inconceivable yet the need for the Brazilian to develop his game and take greater responsibility makes the possibility of bringing him into a deeper role more acceptable.

His intelligence, quick thinking and invention makes him a man capable of turning the successful midfield battles into chances for the attacking weapons ahead of him.

The kind of link up play between midfield and attack that the likes of James Milner and Jordan Henderson aren’t always accustomed to look for.

Occupying these deeper areas could also introduce Coutinho to greater freedom when it comes to his movement and the positions he can work in.

The level of attacking talent ahead of him would not only give him a reliable target but would also force opposition defenders to decide whether to leave their position to pursue the Brazilian or allow him the room to dictate the play.

Vision of an even bigger picture in front of him at times could improve the team’s transition from defence to attack and also his ability to really take control of proceedings and identify the kinds of gaps in the opposition defence that most would overlook.

The defensive responsibilities associated with a deeper midfield role would also by no means stop him from taking up the more advanced attacking positions given the runners such as Jordan Henderson and Emre Can that Klopp has at his disposal.

There remains such an impetus towards winning the midfield battle through strength and tackles yet the impact on an opponent, both mentally and physically, caused by the obsession with keeping tight to someone of Coutinho’s quality and playing victim to his trickery continues to be ignored.

A box to box midfield partnership…

Predicting Jurgen Klopp’s choice of starting central midfielders on the opening day is impossible at this stage.

Marko Grujic’s impressive performance against Fleetwood Town on Wednesday night has quickly triggered calls for the use of the Serbian alongside Emre Can.

Though certain to come up against stronger opposition than Fleetwood, Grujic showcased what a powerhouse he could become. Never has a young prospect’s sheer height and stature intrigued Liverpool fans so much.

It is fair to say most are desperate to avoid seeing their side bullied in the way they were so often last season and early signs suggest Grujic can go some way towards improving this weakness.

Two box to box midfielders in unison would play to Klopp’s desired intensity as well as reducing the chance of Liverpool being over-run and boxed in during games in the manner they were against Sevilla in the Europa League final.

A pair of young men evidently capable of and willing to work their socks off in front of the back four and stride forward to initiate attacks as well.

A pair of young men who, as a polished partnership, could not only bring the best out of each other but also afford Jordan Henderson the time and space to spray his forward passes more effectively.

In a time where athleticism is as much a necessity as technical ability, a potential combination of two young men not short of energy or flair is something to be optimistic about.

It must be noted though that Iago Aspas impressed many on his debut for the club in pre-season so there is still a long road ahead for Grujic.

Throw Kevin Stewart into the mix and Klopp has a trio of imposing players on his hands with the tools to dominate midfield battles and perhaps offer an alternative when orchestrating a counterattacking setup in away games against home sides looking to play on the front foot.

A healthy balance is becoming apparent throughout the squad.

With the talent Liverpool have, the simple height and work rate that Grujic primarily offers can do little harm at either end of the pitch.

Playing to Henderson’s strengths…

Jordan Henderson has a big year ahead of him having missed large periods of last season through injury.

Fans want to see him replicate the aggression and intensity he showed during the 2013/2014 season and fulfill his passing potential.

Placing the former Sunderland man on the right of the three attacking midfielders in the 4-2-3-1 formation stands as another area Klopp could experiment with.

He has proven for both club and country that he can link up well with right back Nathaniel Clyne, inviting the fullback into the final third and giving him the chance to pick out a team mate.

Getting the fullbacks forward is something Liverpool are good at and must take advantage of.

Henderson’s eye for Clyne’s runs and his own tendency to take up wide positions before putting in a cross could prove to be an effective way of stretching the opposition back four.

The height of Divock Origi and runs of Daniel Sturridge could benefit from the use of his crossing ability and eye for a pass in a less central area.

Allowing Henderson to float without necessarily being given a particular position is also something for the manager to think about.

Let him take up wider positions, let him sit behind the striker, let him come deep to collect the ball. He has the legs for it and certainly the determination to try and make something happen every time he has the ball at his feet.

The season is set up for him to rediscover his form and stand up and take charge as one of the more experienced players.

Klopp is constructing a squad with potential, talent and strength in abundance. He is very clearly addressing the need for solidity in the middle of the park and has a group of players capable of adapting to his love of versatility across the pitch.


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