May 18, 2024

 

Liverpool have got off to a good start in their hunt for a top four spot – a midfielder on Bayern Munich’s radar could be the difference-maker they still need.

Liverpool haven’t had a bad start to the season, by any means – they’re in the top four and have a solid lead over teams like Manchester United and Newcastle who could, at least on paper, threaten their chances of getting back into the Champions League. But they’ve been far from perfect, as the three-point gap to the top suggests. If they want to ensure they take their seat at Europe’s top table back, they may need to make changes.

There are several obvious areas for improvement, but perhaps the most glaring is in central midfield. The departures of Fabinho, James Milner and Naby Keïta, justifiable though they all were, have left them with only one genuine defensive midfield option, summer signing Wataru Endo. But in spite of the absence of competition, the 30-year-old Japan international hasn’t managed to nail his spot down, starting just one game since his arrival. Jürgen Klopp has only seen fit to play him for 22 minutes since August.

As a result, Klopp has opted for a more fluid midfield with Alexis Mac Allister typically the deepest of the three, but the way he’s playing is far from a holding role – he pops up all over the pitch trying to snuff out fires and get involved in play. It’s worked well enough so far, but Liverpool have shown how vulnerable their tactics can make them, especially in the 2-1 win over Newcastle when they were repeatedly caught on their heels after losing possession in midfield. They came through that test, but other teams will not take their foot off the gas to the extend that Newcastle did that day. They need someone with the defensive mettle and nous that Mac Allister doesn’t provide.

The gossip columns, as unreliable as they can be, have resurrected the idea of deal that was briefly discussed in the summer but came to nothing – a bid for Fulham’s industrious Portuguese midfielder João Palhinha. He may have signed a new contract at Craven Cottage after his deadline day move to Bayern Munich fell through at the last minute, but the expectation remains that he will leave, likely at the end of the season and perhaps even sooner. £70m is the reported asking price, and it is clear enough that Palhinha feel ready to take a step up in his career.

Like Mac Allister, Palhinha is a hard-working midfielder who doesn’t confine himself to a purely defensive role, and likes to get forward or even into wide areas to get involved in attacking moves – but unlike the Argentinian he also has the defensive savvy to win turnovers and protect his back four more effectively.

 

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