Parting ways with captain Jordan Henderson and Fabinho could leave Liverpool’s midfield in tatters, with Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and James Milner already gone
Jordan Henderson’s prospective move to the Saudi Pro League, where he is could earn an eye-watering weekly sum of £700,000, has thrown up a mess of concerns and moral quandaries.
When news broke of interest in Fabinho however, it suddenly brought into focus the perilous decision set before Jurgen Klopp and his team.
The departures of James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita had been settled months in advance and were key to the midfield refresh that saw the arrivals of Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai.
A shock exit for Liverpool’s skipper would not be ideal, yet it could still be weathered. But also losing Fabinho, and starting the campaign that kicks-off on August 13 with a completely different midfield trio could spell danger.
On a very basic level, Liverpool could lose a combined total of 45 years of Anfield experience this summer should Henderson and Fabinho join the first-team stars already out the door.
That’s not years playing the sport. That’s years spent playing for Liverpool, one of the world’s marquee clubs, dealing with the constant spotlight and pressure of competing for the biggest honours.
The German, and his team by extension, have been a beacon of stability even when the turbulence of last season’s showing threatened to throw them off course.
But now, ahead of a campaign that promised redemption, are they about to scupper any chance of winning big in 2023-24?
The average age of Klopp’s squad was the third highest in the division at 27.2, but marginally younger than it was in the season prior. Several key players in a variety of positions looked to be on their last legs.
Fabinho, who joined the club after their 2018 Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid, was chief among them. The Brazilian’s form fell off the proverbial cliff last term resulting in him losing his place in the starting line-up to youngster Stefan Bajcetic.
The 29-year-old rediscovered some semblance of form towards the end of the season as Klopp changed his in-possession approach and found a mate for Fabinho in the deep midfield position.
This system helped the Reds win seven of their final nine games as they mounted a late charge for Champions League qualification which ultimately proved futile.
Still, the former Monaco man looked to have rescued his Liverpool career with that short spell. But Liverpool’s interest in Southampton’s Romeo Lavia, and their apparent willingness to entertain an approach from Al Ittihad, point to a different outcome.
In Lavia, the Reds see an exciting prospect who caught the eye with the Saints in his debut Premier League campaign at just 19 years old.
The Belgian is a far more dynamic player than the languid Brazilian, recording impressive numbers for tackles, interceptions and successful take-ons. Though standing at 5 ft 11, Lavia’s aerial ability is vastly inferior to Fabinho’s.
And his number of clearances, attempted passes and pass completion are all well below that of the experienced Liverpool midfielder – acknowledging differences in the tactics of their sides.
There is little doubt that Lavia will progress into an outstanding talent, but asserting his superior fit and ability when compared to Fabinho is a stretch at this moment of their respective careers.
Fabinho’s case essentially boils down to whether or not he’s finished at the elite level, was last season just a blip or the first signs of serious decline? Whereas at 33, Henderson’s situation is less clear cut.
When Milner left the club earlier in the window several players and staff were at pains to stress the fact that the 37-year-old wasn’t just admired and feared for his leadership skills. He also greatly contributed to the squad’s quality.
Not to throw shade at a modern icon of the club, but that description is far more apt for Henderson. Liverpool’s skipper played 35 Premier League games last season and has continued to influence ties well into his 12th season at Anfield.
With the arrival of Szoboszlai, his playing time will reduce. Even so, Milner’s departure could have seen him adopt a new role. Club captain. Culture setter. Trophy lifter.
Resurrecting interest in Nice’s Khephren Thuram or entering the race for £100m-rated Moises Caicedo might fill the tactical void but there is no move this summer that could address the organisational brain drain.
The Reds looked to have nailed their rebuilding assignment, however selling Henderson and Fabinho will necessitate further forays into the market and leave them depending on players untested for the system and unproven in their new surroundings.