For many years now, one of the most talked-about and glamourous positions on a football pitch is the role of a number 10, but is this a position that’s become irrelevant to Jürgen Klopp?
Back in January 2018, when Liverpool sold Phillippe Coutinho, few would have thought the Reds would go on to reach that year’s Champions League final. Even fewer would have predicted that they’d win it in 2019 and push Manchester City all the way to the final day in the Premier League.
But they did.
All without replacing Coutinho and bringing in another ‘number 10.’
The story of Coutinho’s demise at Barcelona is well-documented, but it is worth mentioning that the Brazilian put up fine numbers in his last few months at Liverpool and was well on his way to having his best season for the Reds.
When news broke that he had left Merseyside for Catalonia, Liverpool fans immediately demanded a replacement for the Liverpool-dubbed ‘El Magico.’
While the Reds did not replace him in January, it seemed that player identified to fill the void would be Nabil Fekir. But as we’ve discussed ad nauseam, we’re here a year later and Fekir is in La Liga playing for Real Betis.
Liverpool’s current situation
Since Coutinho’s departure, Liverpool have used Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Xherdan Shaqiri, and Roberto Firmino as the most advanced centre midfielders. While each player had spells of success, they’ve also shown that they are not among the world’s elite in this position.
But what this has also shown is that Klopp is gradually moving away from having a specialist number 10 and more toward a defensively responsible yet attack-minded number 8.
How does this affect Liverpool’s overall gameplay?
Overall, Liverpool have become less fluid in the middle of the park in attack, but far more resolute at the back.
Much of this solidity is down to the likes of Fabinho, Virgil van Dijk and Alisson, though much of the personnel from Coutinho’s time has been excellent, too.
Still, it’s hard to say whether Liverpool’s frailties in the past were down to Coutinho’s presence or the absence of the above-mentioned trio.
And while defensive numbers have improved without Coutinho, Liverpool’s attacking fluidity has also taken a slight hit. The player who seemed to have suffered the most last season was Roberto Firmino. Liverpool’s front three now have to come deeper to receive the ball and build up play, and as a result, Liverpool’s transition from back to front is slower. Also, Liverpool’s front three coming deeper allows the opposition defence a bit longer to set up their shape.
Options, but does Klopp need them?
In the current squad, the likes of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Shaqiri, Naby Keita, and Georginio Wijnaldum can all fill in as a creative, goal-getting midfielder. But bar Wijnaldum, who appears to have a largely pre-determined role in Klopp’s setup, this isn’t a strong suit for any of them.
It’s hard to argue with the success of this current system, but if Klopp did want to revert to using a proper 10, the big question would be whether he’d bestow that role upon someone in his current squad or look elsewhere.
One thing for certain is that this Liverpool team is nothing short of sensational, but to evolve and be considered one of the best teams ever assembled, they may need an alternative to the creative reliance on their fullbacks.