Take four top-class performers out of any team and they will inevitably struggle.
However, Liverpool’s humiliation by Aston Villa by seven goals to two was an anomaly. A lack of control in midfield, a weak backline and a profligate attack combined for their worst performance in years.
While the likes of Sadio Mane and Alisson Becker were badly missed, it was in midfield where absentees were felt most keenly. In Thiago Alcantara and Jordan Henderson’s absence, the Reds lost all sense of control in the match.
However, in a match such as this, they are vital. Both are controllers in midfield, organising those around them and most importantly dictating a matches tempo. It’s no coincidence to see that Liverpool’s two worst performances of last season were when Jordan Henderson was absent. His tenacity and leadership make sure standards are maintained. His sheer work-rate and physicality make it virtually impossible for teams to settle.
Thiago Alcantara brings control of a different kind. With an 89.1% passing success rate in 2019/20 and his supreme dribbling ability, there are few who can control possession like him. Against Aston Villa, Liverpool lost all semblance of control, as soon as Adrian’s error gave Villa the lead. With the Spanish maestro in the team, it’s far easier to gain control back.
Virtually impossible to press and with his passing range, this is the kind of match he excels in. These two players are what Liverpool desperately need in games like this. Upon their return, it’ll be far easier for them to dictate the tempo of matches and provide a platform for the rest of the team to operate from.
Thankfully for the Reds, both Thiago and Henderson should both have recovered from COVID-19 and injury respectively after the break. And not before time, with high-flyers Everton up next. With the two midfielders returning to the starting lineup however, the Reds will be confident of pulling off a result.