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Old 08-11-21, 11:56 AM   #1
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Midfield

Looking at the side there is something not right with out midfield both in terms of the balance and the availability/injury records of many of the players in there.

If we look at the percentage of games that our midfielders have started over the last 3 seasons before this it makes fairly grim reading:

% of PL and CL games started
...............18-19.19-20..20-21.21-22
Fabinho.....55%...60%...73%...60%
Wijnaldum.84%...87%...88%...N/A
Thiago.......N/A....N/A....46%...47%
Milner........57%...28%...31%...53%
Keita.........39%...26%...19%...47%
Henderson.57%...70%...50%...87%
Ox..............0%...43%....4%...20%
Lallana.......12%....6%...N/A....N/A
Shaqiri.......25%....4%...13%...N/A
Jones...........0%....2%...38%...27%
Elliott..........N/A.....0%...N/A...20%

Games per season 18-19: 51, 19-20: 46, 20-21:48 21-22:15

Now obviously this doesn't tell the whole picture as it doesn't count sub appearances or games were players were available or unselected. But given that for much of this time we have had fairly settled midfield it gives some idea about the availability of the regular starters in this time.

Wijnaldum was averaging ~85% of games over the previous 3 seasons, in that time Fabinho and Henderson have each once managed to make 70% of those games in a single season once but over the 3 years are averaging about 60% each, in this period you would find it difficult to argue with those three being your first choice. Beyond that for much of that time Keita and Milner have been the main backups with Keita starting about 30% of the games and Milner 40%. It seems unfair to scrutinise other players records because they either haven't been here long enough or haven't been considered starters for much of the time for a variety of reasons.

Looking at the % of games started by each player the decision to let Wijnaldum go looks more and more baffling. Look at this season, ok we are only something like a quarter to a third of the way in. Henderson has played more than he has averaged over previous seasons, Fabinho is on about par, the numbers elsewhere are all over the place who is our 3rd midfielder based on the numbers you would say Milner, followed by Thiago and Keita, but the fact that, at the moment they aren't that far behind Fabinho. There is no consistency in our midfield largely down to injury or players being unavailable.

But even if you were to pick a first choice three (ignoring injury records) presumably you would go with Fabinho, Henderson and Thiago/Keita. Even when that midfield has played the balance doesn't look right we have been carved open by most semi decent teams we have played. The midfield aren't filling in and covering for the fullbacks, this is something that Henderson and Wijnaldum used to do quite well, Thiago and Keita have never been as good at this and Henderson's form in this regard seems to have dipped this year. If Fabinho is out Henderson is the one that seems to drop into the DM role, which he doesn't really excel at and we seem to require a nearly 36 year old Milner to be the one to come in and cover for Henderson and help out with the defensive duties because the other guys don't seem as capable. IMO without at least 2 of Fabinho, Henderson and Milner (and them all playing well) we don't really have the right balance. Last season when we had Fabinho and Henderson out of CM either injured or playing CB it was car crash stuff in there at times. Given their records it seems likely that there are going to be times when we are without a couple of them and IMO that will be hugely problematic.

The other issue is the likes of Thiago, Keita, Ox and Jones while all the more attacking player of the three when they play they are very different players and that third role changes depending on who is playing it, and that impacts on the other two guys in there, again given the respective records of the players involved it doesn't seem like we will be able to rely on having a settled midfield either in terms of personnel or the roles being played.

IMO we need to be bringing in some more reliable players in terms of their availability but we also need to figure out the system again the loss of Wijnaldum from a tactical perspective as well as an availability perspective was a big blow and I don't feel we have enough in the squad to compensate.
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Old 08-11-21, 12:33 PM   #2
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Good post. yes as I've said we really do need a mini midfield rebuild. It's going to cost money though and are we willing to splash out on the likes of Bellingham who will be very expensive? I just can't see it.
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Old 08-11-21, 01:01 PM   #3
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We have the numbers of players which in some ways makes it more difficult as you have to move more players on, but if you have 3 players in midfield every game to cover those positions you need a minimum of 4 players who can play 75% of the time, 5 players who can play 60% of the time or 6 players who can play 50% of the time and that's assuming injuries or unavailability is timed perfectly (which obviously doesn't happen). Our first choice 4 (Fabinho, Henderson, Thiago and Keita) give us about 2/3 of what we need, add Jones and Milner and assume their numbers are artificially low because they have been available but not picked in the past that probably just about gets us there with little margin for error. The problem with this is that our first choice midfield becomes 3 from 6. The obvious effect of this is that there is no consistency, balance or cohesion because you are constantly having to change players rather than developing a unit.

In my opinion we need at least a couple of players who are good enough, but also capable of playing something like 75% of games that way we can reduce the pool of players we need to pick from and develop a settled side and system, that would improve us massively.

Someone like Bellingham would be ideal, people talk about how much he would cost but you would be looking at someone who could play for the club for 15 years for something of order £80-100m, it's alot of money but when you are looking at paying £20-30m for someone like Thiago who had maybe 5 years left at the top and then in 4/5 years having to replace him with whatever the equivalent transfer fee is in that market, the long term option looks a sensible one if we believe the player is good enough.
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Old 08-11-21, 01:58 PM   #4
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The midfield needs a do over. We can’t be going into next season with this same group and I think we need 2 new midfielders by the time next season starts. But we need to make room.

That’s why I’d be happy to let Milner go at the end of his contract.

Ox would be top of the list to be sold if there’s any takers.

Naby is a genuine asset when he’s playing, but eventually we have to draw a line over his availability problems. If there were no takers for Ox, then Naby has to be a possibility.

There’s an argument that Thiago may be falling into the same category as Naby, though unlikely there’s any possibility of him going.

I wouldn’t be adverse to replacing Henderson at this stage, but obviously that’s not going to happen either.

Fabinho is essential.

Curtis, good young player with room for improvement and would prefer to keep, but wouldn’t rule out selling him if it were necessary.

Harvey, it was only a few games but he was looking like a revelation and loads of potential for development, keep.
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Old 08-11-21, 02:53 PM   #5
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Availability aside, Fabinho and Thiago are our two best midfielders. We need to bring in another first choice starter. Everyone else is second tier and should be fighting over squad places
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Old 08-11-21, 03:16 PM   #6
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Availability aside, Fabinho and Thiago are our two best midfielders. We need to bring in another first choice starter. Everyone else is second tier and should be fighting over squad places
Not really seeing it with Thiago - looked like a world beater when he arrived but now he just seems too slow. The odd no-look pass is not enough. I would take Henderson over him.
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Old 08-11-21, 03:18 PM   #7
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Availability aside, Fabinho and Thiago are our two best midfielders. We need to bring in another first choice starter. Everyone else is second tier and should be fighting over squad places
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Old 08-11-21, 03:23 PM   #8
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If that is true, then we have one midfielder who we need to keep.
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Old 08-11-21, 03:31 PM   #9
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If that is true, then we have one midfielder who we need to keep.


Iíve a lot of thoughts on the midfield but no time to post them now
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Old 08-11-21, 03:46 PM   #10
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Availability aside, Fabinho and Thiago are our two best midfielders. We need to bring in another first choice starter. Everyone else is second tier and should be fighting over squad places
The issue is two fold though:
1) Do we have a balanced midfield with those two plus one other - I am not sure, I can see what both bring to the side but it isn't about individual players it's about how the midfield and team functions as a unit. Fabinho is clearly key to our midfield, Thiago I remain less convinced about, he has looked decent without being outstanding when he has played.
2) Can we afford to discount availability? Based on Fabinho's availability over the last 3 seasons (starting about 60% of games) and Thiago's in his time here (starting about 50%) of games between them they account for just over a third of the % midfield starts that we need (110/300*). If all our players were only available to start 50-60% of the time then we need at least 5 or 6 players all of a similar level just to get a midfield out for the whole season. That's just based on the numbers and assuming that players unavailability is spread perfectly which obviously won't happen. If players were able to play 75% of games the same number is reduced to 4...


* You need 3 midfielders starting each game in our current system over the season which gives 300% in the numbers I quoted in the original post. Fabinho starts about 60% of the time and Thiago 50% of the time giving a combined total of 110% just over a third of what we need in total.
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Old 08-11-21, 04:17 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by Exiled_red View Post
Looking at the side there is something not right with out midfield both in terms of the balance and the availability/injury records of many of the players in there.

If we look at the percentage of games that our midfielders have started over the last 3 seasons before this it makes fairly grim reading:

% of PL and CL games started
...............18-19.19-20..20-21.21-22
Fabinho.....55%...60%...73%...60%
Wijnaldum.84%...87%...88%...N/A
Thiago.......N/A....N/A....46%...47%
Milner........57%...28%...31%...53%
Keita.........39%...26%...19%...47%
Henderson.57%...70%...50%...87%
Ox..............0%...43%....4%...20%
Lallana.......12%....6%...N/A....N/A
Shaqiri.......25%....4%...13%...N/A
Jones...........0%....2%...38%...27%
Elliott..........N/A.....0%...N/A...20%

Games per season 18-19: 51, 19-20: 46, 20-21:48 21-22:15

Now obviously this doesn't tell the whole picture as it doesn't count sub appearances or games were players were available or unselected. But given that for much of this time we have had fairly settled midfield it gives some idea about the availability of the regular starters in this time.

Wijnaldum was averaging ~85% of games over the previous 3 seasons, in that time Fabinho and Henderson have each once managed to make 70% of those games in a single season once but over the 3 years are averaging about 60% each, in this period you would find it difficult to argue with those three being your first choice. Beyond that for much of that time Keita and Milner have been the main backups with Keita starting about 30% of the games and Milner 40%. It seems unfair to scrutinise other players records because they either haven't been here long enough or haven't been considered starters for much of the time for a variety of reasons.

Looking at the % of games started by each player the decision to let Wijnaldum go looks more and more baffling. Look at this season, ok we are only something like a quarter to a third of the way in. Henderson has played more than he has averaged over previous seasons, Fabinho is on about par, the numbers elsewhere are all over the place who is our 3rd midfielder based on the numbers you would say Milner, followed by Thiago and Keita, but the fact that, at the moment they aren't that far behind Fabinho. There is no consistency in our midfield largely down to injury or players being unavailable.

But even if you were to pick a first choice three (ignoring injury records) presumably you would go with Fabinho, Henderson and Thiago/Keita. Even when that midfield has played the balance doesn't look right we have been carved open by most semi decent teams we have played. The midfield aren't filling in and covering for the fullbacks, this is something that Henderson and Wijnaldum used to do quite well, Thiago and Keita have never been as good at this and Henderson's form in this regard seems to have dipped this year. If Fabinho is out Henderson is the one that seems to drop into the DM role, which he doesn't really excel at and we seem to require a nearly 36 year old Milner to be the one to come in and cover for Henderson and help out with the defensive duties because the other guys don't seem as capable. IMO without at least 2 of Fabinho, Henderson and Milner (and them all playing well) we don't really have the right balance. Last season when we had Fabinho and Henderson out of CM either injured or playing CB it was car crash stuff in there at times. Given their records it seems likely that there are going to be times when we are without a couple of them and IMO that will be hugely problematic.

The other issue is the likes of Thiago, Keita, Ox and Jones while all the more attacking player of the three when they play they are very different players and that third role changes depending on who is playing it, and that impacts on the other two guys in there, again given the respective records of the players involved it doesn't seem like we will be able to rely on having a settled midfield either in terms of personnel or the roles being played.

IMO we need to be bringing in some more reliable players in terms of their availability but we also need to figure out the system again the loss of Wijnaldum from a tactical perspective as well as an availability perspective was a big blow and I don't feel we have enough in the squad to compensate.
Cracking post that
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Old 08-11-21, 04:42 PM   #12
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For me Ox is finished and Milner given his age isn't really a long term option we should be relying on. Fabinho is key, Henderson is an important player in the dressing room but I feel needs moving more into the 'Milner role' in the coming years. I like Thiago and Keita when they play at their best but their availability is problematic for me and there are still one or two tactical question marks over them (these might have been solved if they had been able to play regular runs of games, but the reality seems to suggest that this isn't the case). Jones and Elliott I would like to say will both make it but at the moment that isn't guaranteed.

For me this summer we need 2 players to come into the CM numbers wise to replace Ox and Milner, at least one of whom needs to be able to play DM and the other a CM (we have a decent no of attacking options elsewhere) both of whom need to be available for 70+% of games and both of whom would be brought into the side as regulars by the 2nd half of next season. Essentially giving us a midfield consisting of 2 new guys Fabinho, Thiago, Henderson, Keita, Jones and Elliott. If those guys really are able to play 70% of the games each combined with Fabinho's 60% we need the rest to make up the other third of all the midfield minutes plus coving for injury etc, truth is that probably leaves us a little over stocked so at that point we would need to be making a decision on who else stays and who goes, but unless there is a marked improvement or silly money is offered for someone else Keita would be my favourite to be moved on...
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Old 08-11-21, 06:13 PM   #13
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I have been saying our midfield is mostly poor for ages.
Our forwards, full backs and defence have basically been papering over the cracks but its been clear how vulnerable we have been to counter attack for years.
Fabinho is generally decent, henderson occasionally turns in a master class, but most of the others are average at best.
And thats before you factor in availability...
Its never straightforward substituting one for another as they need to function as a unit and no matter how much you train for it there is a massive difference to a proper aggressive opposition.
Two of our main midfielders (hendo and milner) are getting on a bit and the legs are struggling a bit,
Its not about us no longer having wijnaldum as his last year was a massive drop off in form for him.
Thiago has all the tools but is either unfit or not playing to the level we expect from a 200k a week player.
Keita is an enigma, he could be excellent but rarely available and form is very hit and miss.
Oxlade was a regular sick note at arsenal and im amazed we bothered to sign him, and will very rarely be worthy of his place.
Jones may develop into a decent player but his positonal sense, discipline and availability are all questionable.
The rest really dont add up to much.
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Old 08-11-21, 07:15 PM   #14
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As with last season and not replacing Lovren, we’ve gone into this season with approach of making do and planning to make use of squad members instead of trying to consistently improve the first team year on year as you expect at the top level. And let’s be honest, we’ve done it to avoid the expenditure; it’s the budget option. Now given the state of football finances now and potentially in the medium term, that is understandable. When you look at the squads we’re competing with, I guess the lesson is that expectations need calming a bit. All things considered we are doing very well this season, as well as we could reasonably expect. But we’re not the best team in the division anymore.
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Old 08-11-21, 08:19 PM   #15
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Cracking post that
Apart from the table - doing my nut in that is

 18/1919/2020/2121/22
Fabinho55%60%73%60%
Wijnaldum84%87%88%N/A
ThiagoN/AN/A46%47%
Milner57%28%31%53%
Keita39%26%19%47%
Henderson57%70%50%87%
Ox0%43%4%20%
Lallana12%6%N/AN/A
Shaqiri25%4%13%N/A
Jones0%2%38%27%
ElliottN/A0%N/A20%

aaaaaaand relax
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Old 08-11-21, 08:30 PM   #16
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Apart from the table - doing my nut in that is

 18/1919/2020/2121/22
Fabinho55%60%73%60%
Wijnaldum84%87%88%N/A
ThiagoN/AN/A46%47%
Milner57%28%31%53%
Keita39%26%19%47%
Henderson57%70%50%87%
Ox0%43%4%20%
Lallana12%6%N/AN/A
Shaqiri25%4%13%N/A
Jones0%2%38%27%
ElliottN/A0%N/A20%

aaaaaaand relax
I initially tried to put it in a table but it was putting everything I a single column for me. Not sure why
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Old 08-11-21, 08:48 PM   #17
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I initially tried to put it in a table but it was putting everything I a single column for me. Not sure why
I do mine in Notepad. Just one tab to move across each column even if it looks out of line once you table it on here it works a treat. For theat first gap you can tab across or give it a heading like Player then tab but works the same. No idea how it would work to start from scratch in the reply box
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Old 08-11-21, 09:31 PM   #18
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I do mine in Notepad. Just one tab to move across each column even if it looks out of line once you table it on here it works a treat. For theat first gap you can tab across or give it a heading like Player then tab but works the same. No idea how it would work to start from scratch in the reply box
That was my problem, I thought there must be a way but couldn't figure it out
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Old 09-11-21, 11:18 AM   #19
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Easiest way imo is just to copy a block of cells over from Excel, then wrap in table tags:

TestTableForEst
42004200350259
42002520210155
52003120260192
35003500292216
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Old 03-01-22, 12:01 PM   #20
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Just thought I would revisit this thread given our recent midfield performances.

I still feel that much of my OP still stands something doesn't look right either as a unit or with certain players individually. The midfield that we played yesterday was the most defensive we could probably put out but it let a 2 goal lead slip and was sliced through like a knife through butter. There isn't the pace or will in there to track runners, combined with giving the ball away too much, has got us into all kinds of problems recently.

I know various people feel that things will improve if Thiago or Keita start regularly but these are the stats on the number of games players have started in midfield this season:

PlayerPL/CL Starts% Started
Fabinho1661%
Thiago935%
Milner935%
Keita935%
Henderson2077%
Ox935%
Jones415%
Elliott312%
Morton312%

Ok a couple of players have missed games through Covid rather than injury and others may have benefitted from the two dead rubber games in the CL but it is clear that we don't have a settled unit, which is a problem as players don't seem to know their jobs or don't seem capable of doing them. At best our midfield consists of Henderson, Fabinho +1. Fabinho is key to our side, but is only playing 6 out of every 10 games and we have no adequate cover for him.

Henderson's form is nowhere near where it was a couple of years ago. Milner seems past it now he has been a great pro for us and has in the past been the guy that we bring on to see games out but he is constantly getting done for pace and giving away fouls and/or bookings I feel that this really has to be his last season as a player with us. Thiago looks for the most part quality when we can get him on the pitch, but he is capable of brain fart moments and there are questions over the defensive side of his game, similar story with Keita looks quality in possession, out of possession less so. Ox seems to have his moments but until he has one you feel he can be anonymous. Elliott, Jones and Morton haven't really had enough games this year to tell where they are at. The former 2 through injury. Elliott was really unlucky as he was looking like he might start to establish himself, Jones has been frustrating as he looked decent last year and I was hoping he would push on this year but that hasn't happened.

I really feel we have some big decisions to make in the summer (I don't see anything happening in this window) we need to bring in at least a couple of players and ship out 2 or 3, we need to get over the idea that somebody is a top player when they play if the stats are suggesting that they are only able to play 30-40% of the time.
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Old 03-01-22, 12:47 PM   #21
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Fabinho and Thiago are at a different level to the rest. Jones, Elliott and maybe Gordon are promising squad options to challenge for starts. The rest are not of the necessary quality (or availability with Keita), and are expensive to employ and should be replaced.
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Old 03-01-22, 12:55 PM   #22
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Injuries this season not including Covid.

Fab - 0 games
Hendo - 3 games
Milner - 0 games
Ox - 0 games
Keita - 0 games
Jones - 15 Games
Thiago - 10 Games
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Old 03-01-22, 01:17 PM   #23
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Injuries this season not including Covid.

Fab - 0 games
Hendo - 3 games
Milner - 0 games
Ox - 0 games
Keita - 0 games
Jones - 15 Games
Thiago - 10 Games
I don't know where those come from but I am dubious about what they include, Fabinho hasn't missed all the games he's been out for with Covid, there has been knocks or slight injuries etc. I'm fairly sure that Milner missed games through injury. Also the likes of Ox and Keita amongst others haven't played because they haven't been fit, in terms of coming back from injury etc which is IMO similar to being out injured.
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Old 03-01-22, 01:30 PM   #24
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I don't know where those come from but I am dubious about what they include, Fabinho hasn't missed all the games he's been out for with Covid, there has been knocks or slight injuries etc. I'm fairly sure that Milner missed games through injury. Also the likes of Ox and Keita amongst others haven't played because they haven't been fit, in terms of coming back from injury etc which is IMO similar to being out injured.
They are from transfermarkt injury lists and are true according to them, I posted them to show that percentages played is different to availability. Keita for example has actually missed fewer games through injury than Henderson since he arrived. It's not his fault Henderson is prefered.

Ox hasn't missed a game through injury this season but hasn't been selected for most, difficult if Hendo/Fab/Thiago are fit.

Statistics eh! which ones to believe.
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Old 03-01-22, 02:13 PM   #25
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They are from transfermarkt injury lists and are true according to them, I posted them to show that percentages played is different to availability. Keita for example has actually missed fewer games through injury than Henderson since he arrived. It's not his fault Henderson is prefered.

Ox hasn't missed a game through injury this season but hasn't been selected for most, difficult if Hendo/Fab/Thiago are fit.

Statistics eh! which ones to believe.
Obviously there is a difference between when players start and when they are available, the numbers I posted are the number of games people started. The players who didn't start aren't taken into account, they could be fit and on the bench or left out, injured have Covid or whatever. Even if they are on the bench they may be ghr only be fit enough to play 20/45/60mins and that's why they didn't start. That applies in the case of Ox and Keita in particular.

The Injury stats don't include time where players are back from injury but not fully fit.
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Old 03-01-22, 02:19 PM   #26
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Obviously there is a difference between when players start and when they are available, the numbers I posted are the number of games people started. The players who didn't start aren't taken into account, they could be fit and on the bench or left out, injured have Covid or whatever. Even if they are on the bench they may be ghr only be fit enough to play 20/45/60mins and that's why they didn't start. That applies in the case of Ox and Keita in particular.

The Injury stats don't include time where players are back from injury but not fully fit.
I get what you mean but I'm certain Klopp would not even bench you if you haven't trained 100% hence the reason so many miss the cut, so I can't imagine any player being put on the bench if they are only capable of 20/45 or 60 mins. He would rather have fit rezzies than unfit first choice.
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Old 03-01-22, 02:22 PM   #27
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I get what you mean but I'm certain Klopp would not even bench you if you haven't trained 100% hence the reason so many miss the cut, so I can't imagine any player being put on the bench if they are only capable of 20/45 or 60 mins. He would rather have fit rezzies than unfit first choice.
Looking at Ox and alot of the games he has been on the bench for particularly earlier in the season there's no way he was fit to play 90 it has applied to others to. I think with 9 players on the bench you can afford to do that now.
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Old 03-01-22, 02:29 PM   #28
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Looking at Ox and alot of the games he has been on the bench for particularly earlier in the season there's no way he was fit to play 90 it has applied to others to. I think with 9 players on the bench you can afford to do that now.
we have to agree to disagree, Ox might look like a lardy lazy arse but if he has properly trained he will be selected or on the bench, not trained, no place on either. They cost too much to mess with their fitness.

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Old 03-01-22, 04:40 PM   #29
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I think whatever the reasons for people not starting games the main problem is that we don't have a settled midfield where everyone knows their job, the constant shuffling means that our midfield functions in different ways.
i. e. A midfield of Fabinho, Henderson and Thiago has a different balance from. A midfield of Fabinho, Henderson and Keita and different again from Fabinho, Henderson and Milner etc. We were at our best when the midfield was fairly well settled, we made changes from. Time to time but we had runs of games with the same 3.We have barely been able to string 2 or 3 games with the same midfield together this year. Everyone's role changes slightly depending on who they are playing alongside and forme that is a big part of the problem.
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Old 03-01-22, 04:51 PM   #30
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We need to put the brakes on being a retirement home for aging midfielders and sign some good players that can perform in the Premier League and stay healthy.
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Old 04-01-22, 01:41 PM   #31
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Do you not get bored of discussing the same thing over and over again?

Our midfield is getting older and probably isn't as good as 19/20.

What exactly is repeatedly talking about it going to achieve?
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Old 04-01-22, 01:45 PM   #32
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Rather flies in the face of the whole message board thingy
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Old 04-01-22, 02:35 PM   #33
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Do you not get bored of discussing the same thing over and over again?

Our midfield is getting older and probably isn't as good as 19/20.

What exactly is repeatedly talking about it going to achieve?
It is getting tedious now I agree.

I'm pretty sure the owners and Klopp will have identified potential new signings to bring in this month and in the summer.
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Old 04-01-22, 03:20 PM   #34
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Guys, it's a thread about our midfield not about Jayne Mansfield's tits. If you don't want to shit, stay off the lav, go somewhere else to talk.
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Old 04-01-22, 03:32 PM   #35
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Had to google who Jayne Mansfield is / was.

That is my afternoon sorted. They are amazing alright......
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Old 04-01-22, 03:35 PM   #36
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Guys this isnít the Jayne Mansfield thread
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Old 04-01-22, 11:46 PM   #37
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Had to google who Jayne Mansfield is / was.

That is my afternoon sorted. They are amazing alright......
Weirdly pointy, wtf is going on under them tight tops. Probably some sort of meccano enhanced corset bustier thingy
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Old 05-01-22, 01:22 AM   #38
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easily take an eye out with those
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Old 05-01-22, 10:32 AM   #39
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still though, they don't make them like they used to. Would be great fun.
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Old 06-01-22, 02:48 PM   #40
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From James Pearce in the Athletic

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Liverpool are the great entertainers but Klopp needs more firepower in midfield

Pep Lijnders was far from downbeat. Liverpool’s defiant stand-in manager was on a mission to provide some context to a breathless contest at Stamford Bridge. His glass was certainly half-full.

“We could have made a lot of excuses with the situation we’re in, but our boys showed a big heart,” said the Dutchman, a nod to the absence of manager Jurgen Klopp and no fewer than nine senior Liverpool players for Sunday’s 2-2 draw due to a mix of COVID-19, injuries and suspension.

Lijnders had a point. In the circumstances, it would be ridiculous to be overly critical of a team dealing with such adversity who returned to Merseyside with a share of the spoils. But it was something else that he said that really struck a chord: “It’s never boring with us.” It’s certainly a fair assessment about their fortunes currently but it’s not a massive compliment. In their past five matches in all competitions, Liverpool have scored 10 goals and conceded nine.

Two years ago, when Liverpool embarked on a ruthless, relentless march to end the club’s 30-year wait for top-flight title glory, they turned game management into an art form.

Week after week, they got themselves into winning positions and then shut matches down. Rather than going for the jugular, they kept their shape and kept their lead. They were tactically disciplined and so adept at taking the sting out of proceedings.

Over the course of 2019-20, they won 13 league games by a one-goal margin. After kicking off 2020 with a 4-0 rout of Southampton, they triumphed 1-0, 2-0, 1-0 and 2-0 in their next four league matches. Teams wearily accepted their fate. They knew that, once behind, they wouldn’t get a sniff.

What Klopp would give for that level of control at the moment.

Instead, during his seven-day isolation period at home in Formby, he’s got another game to analyse where Liverpool allowed a commanding position to slip away.

Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah provided the perfect parting gifts before flying to Cameroon to play in the Africa Cup of Nations. Mane ended the worst goal drought of his Anfield career with a smart finish, while Salah added another majestic finish to his bulging collection.

But even at 2-0 up yesterday, that never looked like being enough. The shape wasn’t right, there were too many gaps for Chelsea to exploit. It has happened too often this season.

Klopp’s men led 2-1 and 3-2 at Brentford in late September but failed to win. The next weekend, they were 2-1 up at home to Manchester City with nine minutes to go and had to settle for a point. A two-goal advantage was wiped out at home to Brighton at Halloween and away to Tottenham just before Christmas they conceded an equaliser inside the final 20 minutes. Throw this game into the mix and that’s 10 points gone begging right there.

There have only been four instances across the Premier League this season of a side failing to win after leading by two or more goals and Liverpool are responsible for half of them.

You can’t win the title with a habit like that.

Liverpool’s midfield trio were far too easy to play through at Stamford Bridge, and they were wasteful in possession. “They were bossed and bullied,” was Sky Sports pundit and old midfield warhorse Graeme Souness’ succinct verdict about their tussle with the dynamic duo of N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic.

Fabinho hasn’t looked himself since returning from a bout of COVID-19. He doesn’t have his usual poise, energy and drive. That issue is compounded by Jordan Henderson’s own dip in form. The captain’s pass-completion rate was down to 73 per cent against Chelsea and he lost possession on 16 occasions across the 90 minutes. The service to the front three wasn’t good enough. So many promising openings disappeared.

James Milner was clearly frustrated with his own contribution when he was replaced by Naby Keita midway through the second half. Milner, who turns 36 tomorrow (Tuesday), was picked ahead of both Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to start the match because of his defensive qualities.

Young Caoimhin Kelleher, who deputised impressively for Alisson in goal, would certainly have been exposed more often but for Milner’s tally of three tackles, five clearances, two blocks and an interception. However, in possession, the former England international completed just 65 per cent of his passes.

As a midfield unit, there simply wasn’t enough pressure on the ball and that’s asking for trouble when you play with such a high defensive line. It was too easy for Chelsea to get in behind Liverpool.

And going forward there wasn’t a creative spark from any of the midfield trio.

How Liverpool need to get Thiago fit and firing again. A hip problem is the latest obstacle placed in his path after recovering from COVID-19 for a second time. The Spaniard has started just eight out of the season’s 20 league games so far.

So much chopping and changing in midfield has damaged Liverpool’s title challenge. There’s been little continuity. The decision not to replace Georginio Wijnaldum last summer after he moved to Paris Saint-Germain as a free agent has been brought into sharp focus as that area of the squad has been repeatedly depleted. Oxlade-Chamberlain and Keita have made some eye-catching contributions but consistency has eluded them and neither has nailed down a place in Klopp’s strongest line-up.

With Keita also now away at AFCON, Curtis Jones will have a bigger role to play. Harvey Elliott is close to returning to team training having recovered from an ankle fracture-dislocation but after four months out he will need time to get up to speed.

Leighton Clarkson, a 20-year-old who has been recalled from a loan spell at Blackburn Rovers in the Championship, offers another option, along with 19-year-old Tyler Morton.

In the absence of Salah and Mane, Liverpool must attempt to navigate their way past a two-legged semi-final with Arsenal in the next two midweeks and book a trip to Wembley for the Carabao Cup at the end of next month. Their challenge for a first FA Cup in 16 years starts at home to third division Shrewsbury Town on Sunday.

The two league matches currently scheduled during AFCON – Brentford at home and Crystal Palace away – should be won without those star names but there will be a big responsibility on the shoulders of Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino to provide the firepower.

Taking just two points out of the last nine has hurt Liverpool. It’s hard to see them making up this 11-point deficit to Manchester City, despite having their postponed Boxing Day home game against Leeds United in hand.

But this isn’t the time for defeatism. There are three other trophies on their radar over the next five months. The target is to ensure that’s still the case when their African contingent return to Merseyside.

Without Salah and Mane, it’s simply unrealistic to think that Liverpool are going to blow teams away.

They will need to be resilient. They will need to be tough to break down. They will need to dig in.

Forget entertaining the neutrals, they may well need to be boring at times.

To do that Klopp, needs much greater solidity in midfield. That area of vulnerability needs to be addressed.
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