🔴EOTK Insider Opinion: Liverpool won't regret not replacing Wijnaldum... if two battling midfielders can keep fit 🤕
Things aren't desperate at Anfield... but the warning signs are there 🚨
Prior to Liverpool’s 2-2 draw to Brighton, Fabinho’s absence in the middle of the park hadn’t felt so notable since the Reds’ 3-2 victory at the Wanda Metropolitano.
It’s a result that felt like a defeat, in Jurgen Klopp’s own words, and rightly so after the Merseysiders squandered an opportunity to build up a gap between themselves and Manchester City and allowed Chelsea to create their own points cushion at the league summit.
Now, we’re far from being in a desperate situation, at least as far as our league positioning is concerned.
After all, we haven’t quite been reduced to an Academy option alongside an unproven senior player.
Indeed, the statistics surrounding Fabinho’s absences this season hardly paint a picture of a side in crisis; of the four league games the Brazilian international has been unavailable for, Liverpool have emerged with 10 points from a possible 12.
That being said, as certain red flags reminiscent of last term’s injury crisis begin to twitch, there should be genuine concerns around the club when it comes to our title ambitions.
Or should there be?
Eyebrows were raised following Georginio Wijnaldum’s departure last summer on a free transfer, with fans, pundits and established journalists alike nervously analysing the Dutchman’s availability stats.
This was a player who had missed less than 6% of Liverpool’s total tally of English top-flight games following his switch from Newcastle United.
Letting the 30-year-old leave and then not sourcing a replacement seemed a near-negligent move in light of a prior campaign defined by injury struggles and the resulting collapse of our title retention hopes.
Looking at a larger pool of statistics, there appears to be some evidence that Klopp’s men are capable of not only surviving without Fabinho but also thriving.
Beyond the prior campaign - in which an injury crisis in the centre-half position was the obvious and main contributor to our difficulties - we’ve seen the No.3 miss eight games through injury in our title-winning season.
Without the former Monaco man, we managed to secure all 24 points up for grabs - albeit with a midfield still containing our former No.5, with the likes of Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and James Milner filling in where necessary.
Despite fans’ fears following Wijnaldum’s Anfield exit, we’ve not seen our win rate collapse massively when Fabinho isn’t the side.
A 100% win rate in 2019/20 has fallen to 75% this term, though within a smaller number of games to retrieve a percentage from.
However, this has been largely offset by the fact that Jurgen Klopp has been able to field combative midfield combinations when missing his natural defensive midfielder.
Having Jordan Henderson slot in for the Brazilian isn’t quite the same, of course, but a combination of two of our skipper, Milner and Keita (and, previously, Wijnaldum) has more than sufficed when necessary.
Take the four games we’ve been without Fabinho this season: Burnley, Manchester United, Watford and Brighton.
Both Keita and Henderson have been present for all four, with the former forced off the pitch early on in our 2-2 draw against the Seagulls (the one game Milner had also been unavailable for due to injury).
Interestingly, most seem to concur on the point that Liverpool began losing the midfield battle shortly after the Guinean international’s departure.
Of course, the point will be rightly made that we’ve struggled to maintain control of the middle of the pitch even with a combination involving Keita, Henderson and Milner against better sides - as was demonstrated in our 3-2 victory over Atletico Madrid, with Fabinho adding some much-needed stability after the halfway mark.
We know that the former combination isn’t exactly our best midfield trio; our skipper and Fabinho are guaranteed starters with one of Naby Keita, Thiago Alcantara or (when fit) Harvey Elliott slotting in alongside them.
With all due respect to Milner, who has proven to be nothing short of remarkable when called upon, we shouldn’t be relying on our 35-year-old veteran as much as we have of late and, evidently, it’s caught up with him in light of his recent hamstring injury.
Likewise, Keita has proven to be far from a reliable presence in light of his proneness to injury since his big-money move from RB Leipzig.
As such, circumstances have left us in something of an uncomfortable position as we face Diego Simeone’s Los Colchoneros midweek and an in-form West Ham United outfit at the weekend.
In light of Fabinho’s recent return to team training, of course, it’s a general concern that Liverpool may thankfully avoid, at least beyond the impending clash with Atletico Madrid.
At the very least, as long as one of the likes of Keita or our vice-captain are available when our 28-year-old holding midfielder isn’t, as the stats would appear to support, we can probably safely navigate much of the challenges ahead.
That being said, it’s a far from sustainable situation given the lack of durability possessed by our backup options and an area we’ve no doubt the recruitment team will be looking to address at the next available opportunity.
Indeed, should we be forced to tackle the season without all three, we’ll inevitably be left regretting our failure to replace our former resident Mr. Reliable in Georginio Wijnaldum.
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