Liverpool reinvented as midfield shuffle hints at Jurgen Klopp’s past

Jurgen Klopp has overseen a midfield revamp at Liverpool (Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
Jurgen Klopp has overseen a midfield revamp at Liverpool (Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

Liverpool Reloaded, Jurgen Klopp had termed them. Liverpool Reinvented, he described them a few weeks later. It has been a two-tier, two-year process. If this has been the summer of the midfielder – four in, six out – then 2022 was the year of the attacker. Three signings were arranged, with Luis Diaz and Darwin Nunez joining and Cody Gakpo agreeing a deal that was ratified in January 2023, while Diogo Jota and Mohamed Salah signed new contracts. If a window of evolution in the centre of the park was planned, it became a time of revolution. Exit what Klopp termed the most successful midfield in Liverpool’s recent past and enter Alexis Mac Allister in June, Dominik Szoboszlai in July, Wataru Endo in August and now Ryan Gravenberch in September. While Liverpool rejected a £150m bid from Al-Ittihad for Salah, they have spent £150m on the midfield.

“We pretty much had to reinvent the team,” Klopp reflected. “The midfield is already and will be completely new. Over the last few years, we had to do the same with our front line. The most stable area is obviously the last line but now not with injuries and suspensions.”

Liverpool have flipped from old to young: James Milner, Jordan Henderson and Fabinho had a combined age of 99, and some may say it showed. Endo is actually older than Fabinho but the other three arrivals have a combined age of 67; they have the potential to be the first-choice trio for years. There is a switch in profile, too: Klopp’s definitive midfielders were strangers to the scoresheet whereas both Mac Allister and Szoboszlai reached double figures last season, for Brighton and RB Leipzig respectively. They seem more creative than their predecessors. They have shown glimpses of class already, with the Hungarian particularly impressive.

“I really think we did good business, the players we brought in are really good,” said Klopp. “They will even get better: for Macca and Dom you can see that already. The natural skillset is obvious but we had to replace the most successful midfield in the [recent] history of this club. Fabinho, Henderson, Milner, Gini Wijnaldum a few years ago: all had big parts in the team. In our best periods, I remember that you asked the question if we had enough of a goal threat from this midfield when we scored all the goals from the front line. I think we have much more goal threat in midfield now but the work-rate these guys put in, the stability they gave us was second-to-none and that is what we have to create as well.”

That is part of the challenge: to replicate the industry and to forge the kind of understanding their predecessors had. Teamwork and tactical nous are fundamental. It took Fabinho several months to adjust to Liverpool’s style of football; he was used to playing in a double pivot and deeper for Monaco. Klopp laughingly admitted that Endo “did not have a clue” about the shifting plans at Newcastle, when they were down to 10 men.

At 30, the Japan captain is not a player for the next decade. Klopp does not want too high expectations for the next few weeks. Endo is not a plug-and-play replacement for Fabinho: the different nature of operating as a No 6 for Liverpool means the arrival from Stuttgart requires an adjustment period. This, Klopp accepted, is perhaps the hardest position to learn in his system. It could be an issue for Gravenberch, too, if he is used at the base of the midfield.

“For Endo it is a massive step and change in the way he used to play so that needs a bit of time to get there but it is no problem,” Klopp said. “We are a counter-pressing team still with all the possession and stuff, and that means you have to be in specific positions. And you can see in moments where he is slightly too deep. I’ve had meetings with him and we will work on that. He wants to do it 100 per cent right, and you can see in training when the spaces are smaller, he is a machine.

Jurgen Klopp has overseen a midfield revamp at Liverpool (Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
Jurgen Klopp has overseen a midfield revamp at Liverpool (Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

“Can you have a more difficult start than playing twice with 10 men for such a long time? Probably not. We are getting there. He didn’t have a pre-season and that’s the biggest difference between him and the other two new boys. They had the pre-season with us and it changes everything. He just needs training and everything will be fine.”

Which is his general feeling. If Liverpool were accused of being over the hill last season, and only West Ham named an older side than the 11 Klopp picked for the draw with Crystal Palace, now there is scope for teams where Virgil van Dijk, Salah and Andy Robertson are the only outfielders over 26. Klopp does not believe it will be a deterrent to success.

“Age is no issue,” he added. “I’m maybe the wrong person to ask this. I know it was ages ago, but at [Borussia] Dortmund we became the youngest [Bundesliga] champions ever and a year later the second-youngest champions ever as the team was a year older. That’s no problem, it didn’t hold us back then and it will not hold us back now.”

Klopp’s enthusiasm can make him seem young at heart. With youth at the heart of their side, Liverpool are reinvented. Perhaps rejuvenated, too.