Liverpool managed to revamp their entire midfield this summer but it didn’t necessarily go as many had expected.
James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita departed on free transfers before the Saudi Pro League raid on the Reds saw them cash in on Fabinho and Jordan Henderson. The 2019/20 Premier League champions then parted with £150m to bring in Dominik Szoboszlai, Alexis Mac Allister, Wataru Endo and Ryan Gravenberch. In the blink of an eye, Liverpool went from having one of the oldest midfield units in the Premier League to one of the youngest.
However, having lost their two senior defensive midfield options, the assumption was that two would arrive. This wasn’t to be the case though with Endo being the only specialist midfielder to be signed. The 30-year-old former VfB Stuttgart captain, who won the midfield battle in Japan’s 4-1 victory over Germany over the weekend, was initially viewed by some fans as a squad depth option. Still, multiple journalists claimed he was going to be part of the first-team picture and that he wasn’t signed purely to make up the numbers.
In Liverpool’s last match in the Premier League prior to the international break, Endo dropped to the bench with Mac Allister anchoring the midfield. The World Cup winner was flanked by Curtis Jones to his left and Szoboszlai to his right.
Now, on paper, it may seem like a waste to have the former Brighton man so deep. He thrived for the Seagulls in a more advanced role and he shone in Qatar when linking up well with the final third players. When he was signed, many had him earmarked for the left-sided midfield role in a three given he’d played on the left for Brighton and Argentina. The expectation was that he would be the starter there with Jones filling in for him as and when. Thiago was expected to pick up minutes in that role too whenever he was fit and ready.
But some of his best matches for Roberto De Zerbi’s side were when he was a facilitator, pulling the strings from deeper parts of the pitch. He really caught the eye for the Seagulls in the 3-0 win over Liverpool back in January. It was his first Premier League game back after winning the World Cup. In this situation, others might’ve looked to make it all about them. But Mac Allister just kept the ball moving, occupied space well and ensured the hosts could progress possession.
💪 Alexis Mac Allister has made more tackles (10) than any other Liverpool player in the Premier League this season— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) September 10, 2023
👏 16.7% of the total tackles Liverpool (60) have made have been by Mac Allister pic.twitter.com/bD3IdrSZSc
That isn’t too dissimilar to the demands placed upon the player at the base of the Liverpool midfield. Yes, they need to be defensively switched on, which Mac Allister is, but, more importantly, they need to be able to set the tempo.
Aston Villa are a dangerous team on the break with plenty of pace in attack. It would’ve been easy to start Endo in that game but the German tactician clearly wanted to control the match, so he plumped for Mac Allister as the deepest midfielder.
It paid off too. The Liverpool No. 10 was the only middle-third player to attempt over 70 passes before he was replaced by Endo after 87 minutes. He found a teammate with 87.5% of these attempts. Only Moussa Diaby and Pau Torres (5) attempted more dribbles than the Argentine (3) while the 24-year-old ranked first for tackles attempted (5). Matty Cash was the only player to win more (4) than the Liverpool midfielder (3).
Mac Allister played a significant part in a weakened backline keeping their first clean sheet of the season. This might’ve been Klopp’s vision all along. Endo is the more destructive player and can play that role against certain opponents but against others, Mac Allister could be the pick to sit at the base of the midfield and just dictate things in possession while doing a job without the ball. He’s more than capable of doing this and it could well explain why the Reds opted not to bring in another defensive midfielder alongside the Japan captain.
This idea is further backed up by the club’s decision to bring in Gravenberch on deadline day, with Klopp stating he sees the Dutchman as a No. 8 rather than a No. 6. With the ex-Bayern Munich man providing depth there, it frees Mac Allister up to be a deep-lying playmaker who moonlights as a destroyer as and when required.