Over the course of this week I have noticed that despite having 20 points from a possible 24 in the league, Liverpool fans are far from over the moon. It seems absurd on the face of it, but they have good reason to expect more. As fans, we are not bemoaning our team’s results but rather the performances and the fact that despite being unbeaten in eight league games, Liverpool have not reached the levels that we grew accustomed to seeing last season. There are likely to be several reasons for this; fatigue in the front three may be a key factor following an action-packed season and their World Cup exploits, Naby Keita and Fabinho taking time to settle into their new surroundings has meant their impact hasn’t been as significant as expected and as Nathan Linley explored earlier this week, the midfield seemingly lacks the creativity needed to produce a convincing amount of chances. However, the one I believe is key involves a failure from Liverpool’s management in the summer and this was to find a secondary target after the Nabil Fekir transfer fell through.
Fekir vs Oxlade-Chamberlain
Yesterday, Liam Togher wrote a fabulous article that looked at how Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been missed by the Liverpool midfield, particularly in Sunday’s 0-0 against Man City. Obviously, the drive and dynamism of Oxlade-Chamberlain added a different dimension to Liverpool’s game last season with him contributing five goals and eight assists in all competitions from the centre of midfield, including two memorable strikes against Man City. The Englishman stepped up to shoulder the creative burden in a more balanced midfield setup following the departure of Philippe Coutinho in January. However, I would argue that the lack of midfield creativity this season is less Liverpool missing Oxlade-Chamberlain and more them missing the Brazilian who had already scored 12 and assisted eight prior to his mid-season departure.
Indeed, over the summer a replacement for Coutinho appeared to be high on Jurgen Klopp’s wish list with a well-documented pursuit of Lyon midfielder Nabil Fekir. More of a like for like replacement for Coutinho than Oxlade-Chamberlain, Fekir would have undoubtedly brought something different to Liverpool’s attack with a creative flair that has been lacking since the departure of Coutinho and was masked by the insane form of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane in the second half of last season.
Fekir, who like Coutinho can play centrally or in the attack, perhaps even providing cover for Firmino in the false-nine role, is not renowned for his hard work, but it is unlikely that Klopp would have been interested in someone who he felt would be a passenger in his preferred high press tactic. Besides, a little less hard-work would have been forgiven if Fekir were to replicate the 23 goals and eight assists he managed in all competitions last season had Liverpool have signed him. His signing would not only have covered for Oxlade-Chamberlain while he spends the season injured but represented an upgrade in terms of end product with Fekir’s assists also likely to have risen when playing alongside Salah, Firmino and Mane.
Fekir vs Liverpool’s Other Midfielders
Liverpool knew that Oxlade-Chamberlain would be out for the season in the summer and this would have been one of the factors behind their pursuit of Fekir. Of Liverpool’s midfielders, Georginio Wijnaldum is the only one to score from open play, with his goal away at Spurs. While, Milner is the only midfielder to register an assist with him getting two, one against West Ham and one versus Leicester. This pales in comparison to Fekir who has already hit the net on three occasions, with goals against Man City, Caen and Marseille and assisted a further three times, against Man City, Shakhtar Donetsk and Marseille.
Clearly, there is an argument that this type of comparison is not fair as Fekir is not the same sort of midfielder as Wijnaldum or Milner, but that validates my argument as Liverpool do not appear to have an out-and-out creative midfielder. The player most similar to Fekir in the Liverpool squad, Adam Lallana, has only appeared for three minutes so far this campaign as injuries continue to plague the 30-year-old like last season. Unfortunately, a player is rarely at the same level following a succession of injuries in their late twenties and early thirties further supporting Liverpool’s need to have signed a creative midfielder in the last transfer window.
Alternatives to Fekir
The Fekir to Liverpool transfer fell through due to apparent medical reasons, although there is speculation that this isn’t the case. This would leave me very surprised if Liverpool were to go back in for the Frenchman. However, performances this season have highlighted the need for another creative midfielder in the squad. Personally, I would like to see youngster Curtis Jones given a chance having impressed during pre-season, however, he is far from the finished article and I can understand Klopp’s reluctance to throw him into the side when he still has plenty of other fit players. An alternative could be to play Xherdan Shaqiri centrally. This would be an interesting move by the manager as Shaqiri has played his entire career on the wings but having shown great passing ability in the past it is an avenue Klopp could explore.
Even if Klopp looks internally for a solution to his side’s creativity problems, it will likely only be a temporary measure until he can wade into the transfer market again. There aren’t many players out there that Klopp could turn to that would have the same impact as Fekir, although there are several players that could add something different to the creative section of the Reds squad. One is Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey, who could be available in January for a cut-price deal following his contract negotiations seemingly stopping. While more similar to Oxlade-Chamberlain than Fekir, Ramsey has still netted double figures in three of the last five seasons with him scoring 11 last season in all competitions to go with 12 assists. Others that Liverpool could turn to include Julian Draxler, Christian Pulisic, Julian Brandt, Hakim Ziyech and Emil Forsberg, although signing one of these in January will further raise questions about why they weren’t pursued to greater lengths in the summer when the Fekir deal was dead in the water.
It feels weird writing an analysis on a weakness in a team that is unbeaten in the league with the only reason for them not sitting in first being goal difference. However, this is more a reflection of the level that fans expect the team to be reaching consistently every week. While we can all take comfort in the fact that Liverpool have had good results despite not playing particularly well, the next step for this team is to give their fans further comfort by rediscovering their electric best by solving the midfield creativity conundrum and proving that I am wrong to think we needed to sign an alternative when the Fekir deal fell through in the summer.