Thiago faces a number of weeks on the sidelines after picking up a hamstring injury in Liverpool’s Premier League opener at Fulham, so how do the Reds set up without him?
The Spaniard‘s season is threatening to follow a familiar pattern, with much of his time on Merseyside disrupted by a series of injuries.
With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Curtis Jones also out, and Naby Keita only just returning from illness, there are sections of Liverpool’s fanbase who want to see another midfield option added to the ranks before the close of the summer transfer window.
For now, Jurgen Klopp seems happy to stick with what he’s got, so what could Liverpool’s engine room look like in the absence of their midfield maestro?
Elliott – Fabinho – Henderson
Who was the player Klopp immediately summoned when Thiago pulled up at Craven Cottage? Harvey Elliott.
That could, of course, be an indication that the 19-year-old will continue in his place in the coming weeks, especially given the impact he had on the game after his introduction.
His new contract, the third new deal he’s signed in three years, would certainly suggest he’s set for an even more prominent role in the team this season.
What may go against him is the fact he’s usually deployed on the right side of Liverpool’s midfield trio, with Liverpool in need of someone to fill Thiago‘s void on the left.
The obvious solution would be to shift Jordan Henderson to the left, to allow Elliott to come in on the opposite side, as was the case against Fulham.
Klopp told reporters Elliott was like “a new signing” during pre-season and the England under-21 international flourished when given a regular run of starts at the beginning of the last campaign.
Much has been made of his potential, so is now the time to let Elliott shine?
Henderson – Fabinho – Keita
This could be the likeliest option for the time being, assuming Keita is ready to return against Crystal Palace on Monday.
We know how highly Klopp rates the Guinean, and he is a natural fit for the role on the left side of the midfield.
Keita’s quality has never been in question. When fit, he is a huge asset to this Liverpool team.
However, a lot like Thiago, much of his time at Anfield has been disrupted by injuries.
You could argue, though, that 2021/22 was Keita’s best season yet, and with his contract due to expire at the end of this season, he will be particularly keen to ensure he makes this campaign a successful one.
Henderson – Fabinho – Milner
After penning a new one-year contract over the summer, James Milner is now into his eighth year as a Liverpool player.
Many assumed he would be happy to take up a role on the fringes of the first team this season, but Klopp’s recent comments would suggest that’s not the case.
“I’m not sure what level he can reach this year, to be honest, it looks very promising with Milly,” the Liverpool boss said after the 36-year-old had come on to help the Reds win the Community Shield against Man City last month.
A week later Milner was called upon again, with Liverpool’s midfield producing an unusually disjointed performance at Fulham.
Having played a lot of his recent football at full-back, this time he was asked to replace Fabinho in the No. 6 role, and he did so very well.
If Klopp wants to add more solidity and ensure his midfield’s pressing game is on point, Milner is the obvious choice.
Time to try out the 4-2-3-1?
Liverpool’s decision to sign Nunez led to theories among supporters that a change to a 4-2-3-1 formation could be in the offing.
That’s yet to materialise, and the fact it wasn’t even tested during pre-season would suggest it’s not something Klopp is considering for now.
However, with Thiago adding to Liverpool’s ever-growing midfield injury list, and a performance against Fulham that way below standards, could this be a good time to try something new?
Klopp certainly has the players at his disposal to give it a go. Henderson and Fabinho would be most likely to make up the double-pivot, and you’d expect Salah, Nunez and Diaz to start in attack.
Who would fill the role behind Nunez? Roberto Firmino might be most likely, but his performance at Fulham didn’t do him any favours.
Fabio Carvalho caught Liverpool’s eye playing as a No. 10 at Fulham and looks an ideal fit, and Harvey Elliott could also be an option. Food for thought!
Fabinho or Henderson dropped?
Taking Henderson or Fabinho out of the team with Thiago also absent may seem like a strange move, but there’s always a chance Klopp could completely reshuffle his pack, especially after that performance at Fulham.
Elliott started several matches ahead of Henderson at the beginning of 2021/22, with the skipper joining up late for pre-season after his involvement at the Euros.
With Keita back in the mix, a midfield of him, Fabinho and Elliott could have a nice balance to it.
Having gone behind in seven of their last nine games in all competitions, Klopp will want to ensure his team come flying out the blocks against Palace.
Dropping Fabinho or Henderson and utilising more of his forward-thinking midfielders might be a good way to go about it.