Liverpool’s season has seen a lot of players out of position, as a result of the injury crisis. But there’s a trend that the Reds follow when signing players, versatility.
Over the course of the 2020/21 season, Liverpool FC have had to result to alternatives all over the pitch.
The centre-back crisis has forced midfielders Fabinho and Jordan Henderson to fill in at the back, leaving Jurgen Klopp to shake up his lineup every match.
A large number of injuries throughout the squad has seen players in roles we’ve rarely seen them in until this season, and in turn showing how Liverpool’s recruitment team scout possible transfers in regard to their versatility.
Versatility the Key Criteria
Since Klopp joined Liverpool, we’ve seen a number of midfielders fill in at centre-back; along with the previously mentioned Fabinho and Jordan Henderson.
You can add Emre Can, Lucas Leiva, Kevin Stewart, and even Gini Wijnaldum (Brighton, December 2017).
But it isn’t just the centre-back role where we see players who weren’t brought in to play that position.
Currently, we see Alex Oxlade Chamberlain playing right-wing, and Xherdan Shaqiri dropping into midfield.
With all these changes and players stepping into different roles, it got me wondering just how player versatility plays a factor into how Liverpool go after transfer targets.
Busy Transfer Window
First, let’s look at the latest transfer window for Liverpool. In the past window, Liverpool signed Diogo Jota, Thiago Alcantara, and Kostas Tsimikas.
Although injuries have hampered all of their campaign’s thus far, we’ve been able to see just how versatile these players are and how Liverpool plan on using them given where they played previously for other clubs.
Well Rounded Signings
In his 34 appearances for Wolves during the 2019/20 season, Jota played mainly on the left-wing (22 times) and as a striker (12 times) in all competitions.
Liverpool have used the Portuguese forward all over the front line this season with 3 appearances each as a left-winger, striker, and right-winger.
Thiago Alcantara appeared 40 times for Bayern Munich in 2019/20, playing as a centre-midfielder 29 times and a holding-midfielder 10 times, while only once in attacking-midfield.
His ability to work all levels of the midfield at an elite level is unheralded in Europe. With the number of injuries at centre-back, forcing both of Liverpool’s main midfielders into the back-line, Thiago has mainly played in the number 6 role.
But one can imagine where Klopp will play him once at full strength; in his debut against Chelsea, when Liverpool were healthiest this season, Thiago played mainly as a free-roaming center-mid.
Tsimikas has had very little time on the pitch this season. But the left-back has shown us small glimpses of his versatility at times this season.
In pre-season, Tsimikas played much to the way Andy Robertson does, flying up and down the left hand side, stepping into midfield and at times into the final-third.
This is the full-back I think we can expect. At Olympiakos, the 24-year-old was mainly in the left-back role, but the range he was allowed to explore upon the left side of the pitch was vast.
The Greek international offers more than what we’ve seen as far as where he can play on the pitch.
So let’s look at the way the scouts look at versatility among signings in recent years under Jurgen Klopp.
Klopp’s style of play has shifted over the course of the last few years from the heavy metal football we were so used to when he joined the club, to a more possession based team who likes to cross and get into the opposition’s 18-yard box.
The players that have signed for Liverpool, are able to fit both versions of play, thus only extremely versatile players have been signed under his tenure.
Summer of ’18
In the summer of 2018, Liverpool signed Fabinho, Naby Keita, and Xherdan Shaqiri [Alisson Becker obviously doesn’t apply to this discussion]. All three of those players have featured at multiple positions in their time at Anfield thus far.
Fabinho, nicknamed “the Lighthouse” by assistant coach Pep Ljinders, is arguably the most versatile player in the Liverpool squad.
He has played both central and defensive midfield as well as centre-back in his time with the Reds, but looking at the ability that he brings to the club that allows him to be the player he is and play in multiple positions.
His passing range and ability to adapt to the game in front of him are the biggest attributes that I’ve noticed that allow him to play so many positions.
Fabinho possesses a wonderful long-ball in his arsenal, something we see a lot of when rehabbing centre-back Virgil van Dijk is on the pitch.
His passing ability gives Liverpool the freedom to play in possession and move the ball forward from deep-lying positions.
The Brazilian’s vision in seeing threats in front of him has allowed him to transition flawlessly to centre-back.
It feels as though every week the 27-year-old is making a last ditch tackle or block when in most cases many other centre-backs are not quick enough or simply don’t see the threat.
Combine those attributes with his exceptional timing in defence, positional excellence, strength.
Not to mention the ruthlessness, and you have an unbelievably versatile player.
Guinean and Swiss Army Knives
Keita and Shaqiri have played in various roles as well. Keita mainly in central-midfield or attacking midfield (both left and right side).
On the other hand, he has enjoyed playing a few times in defensive midfield as well.
Much like Fabinho, Keita’s passing range allows him to play each role offensively very well.
While his quickness and dribbling ability allow him to get forward as well as sit back and intercept passes.
Shaqiri is played in similar attacking roles as the Guinean. Featuring on the right-wing, right-midfield, and further forward as a attacking-midfielder.
The 29-year-old offers plenty when going forward, but what sets the former-Stoke man apart is his awareness.
Having been around Europe in plenty different systems and leagues, Shaqiri’s positional awareness has developed into one of his best attributes.
Finding open space is something he does exceptionally well.
Whether he plays centrally or on the right side he is able to open up so much in attack.
Transforming Established Players
Many other instances have shown the versatility of Liverpool’s players as well.
Sadio Mane switched from the right-wing to the left-wing when Mohamed Salah was signed.
Now, is arguably the best left-winger in the world.
Trent Alexander Arnold was a midfielder for much of his youth career before moving to right-back.
In his short career, he has become one of the best full-backs in football.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain played all over the pitch in his time at Arsenal (Right-wing-back, central-midfield, right-sided-midfielder).
He is now featured mainly as an attacking midfielder and at times a right-winger.
What To Look For
Versatility has been a major influence in our signings.
Under Klopp, you’ll be hard pressed to find a signing that cannot stretch their game to another position on the pitch.
Future transfers will likely be the same, especially in midfield. Future midfield signings are coming, likely next summer.
Michael Edwards and his team have been exceptional when finding players who fit the mould of an LFC player and a complete well-rounded footballer.