Premier League • England

Steve Nicol points to Liverpool midfield pair when explaining poor start to season

James-Milner Liverpool September 2022

Liverpool legend Steve Nicol is not surprised the club are struggling this season after seeing their midfield decimated.

Jurgen Klopp has had a number of injury problems to deal with this season and almost all have involved his midfield. That has led to the German coach fielding a patched up midfield, who were ruthlessly exposed in midweek.

The 4-1 defeat by Napoli in the Champions League was arguably one of the most concerning of Klopp’s tenure. And their poor results have not just been confined to Europe. The Reds have managed just two wins from six games, including the last-gasp win over Newcastle.

Nicol is sympathetic to the club’s cause, acknowledging that James Milner, who has been criticised and Harvey Elliott were not expected to feature so much.

Injuries to Thiago, Naby Keita, Jordan Henderson, Curtis Jones and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have severely limited Klopp’s options. Diogo Jota’s injury has also had an impact on Klopp’s team selections. While Fabio Carvalho is the latest Liverpool man to be struck down by injury.

Nicol believes Klopp had no intentions of both Milner, 36, and Elliott, 19, featuring so heavily in the first month of the season.

“There’s no question, you have to sympathise with Liverpool as far as the injuries.

Elliott is a ‘rookie’

“You’re having to play James Milner, who signed a contract basically to be able to give other players a rest and come on for half an hour.

“That’s what James Milner signed a new contract for and that’s why they asked him to do it,” Nicol told ESPN.

“But he’s having to play in your biggest game of the season, and Harvey Elliott is a rookie.

“This guy is learning his trade and so when you’ve got two of your midfielders in the position they’re in, one with no experience and one with too much experience, then the engine room is going to be in trouble.”

Milner has made seven appearances so far this season, although only three of those have been starts.

One of those was the midweek hammering in Naples, where he was joined by Fabinho and Elliott in a midfield three. The trio were firmly second best on a night when Napoli’s incisive attacking was too much for an exposed Liverpool backline.

Arthur Melo option

The one bright spot for Klopp was the return of Thiago from injury.

The Spain international won more of his duels (7) than the rest of the midfield combined (6) on Wednesday night. And Klopp will no doubt be banking on the classy ball player to help lift his team from their slump.

“Until Thiago entered the pitch, I cannot remember a counter–pressing situation,” said Klopp in Italy on Wednesday night. “It was a midfield that was not connected.

Exactly which midfield three Klopp considers his strongest is unclear. But Fabinho, Henderson and Thiago were the three starters in the Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid.

Keita replaced Henderson late in Paris, while Milner and Elliott were unused subs.

New signing Arthur Melo has given Klopp another option, but he is well short of match fitness. The Juve loanee did get a run-out in midweek after replacing Elliott and he may well be destined for a starting role once fully fit.