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How Liverpools midfield has shown signs of evolution ahead of Sundays Chelsea showdown

Jurgen Klopp has decisions to make ahead of Liverpools pivotal clash with Chelsea on Sunday (Getty Images)

Liverpool face the sternest test of their Premier League title credentials on Sunday when top-four chasing Chelsea come to town looking to spoil their hosts party.

It was Chelsea, of course, who dealt a cataclysmic blow to Liverpools last title challenge in 2014 when with nothing to play for they won 2-0 at Anfield in the match made infamous by Steven Gerrards ill-timed slip on the halfway line.

Jurgen Klopp will be desperate to avoid a repeat performance this weekend particularly as Manchester City have a game in hand on his side. The margin for error is closing all the time but should Liverpool beat Chelsea this time around, they will be confident of ending their 29-year wait for a top-flight title due to their final four fixtures.

Liverpool's final four matches

Cardiff (a), Huddersfield (h), Newcastle (a), Wolves (h)

Given what is at stake, Klopp will be acutely aware of the need to get his team selection spot on. Much of Liverpools first-choice XI picks itself with goalkeeper Alisson, defenders Virgil Van Dijk and Andy Robertson and the front three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, all starting 29 of their 33 Premier League games thus far.

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Trent Alexander-Arnold is another shoo-in at right-back given his form this season, while Joel Matip has deputised admirably for Joe Gomez and is, therefore, likely to partner Van Dijk in the middle. That leaves the midfield three which is the one area that Klopp has consistently chopped and changed this season.

Naby Keita endured a difficult start at Liverpool but has shown signs of promise in recent games (Getty Images)

Aside from signing Alisson to replace Loris Karius, it was clear that Liverpools priority for strengthening last summer was in central midfield with Fabinho joining from Monaco and Naby Keita signing from RB Leipzig. Between them, they cost approximately £100m. Xherdan Shaqiri, brought in from Stoke, has also nominally played as a central midfielder at Anfield.

Given their respective price tags, Fabinho and Keita were expected to waltz straight into Klopps first-choice starting XI although they enjoyed contrasting fortunes at the start of their Liverpool careers. Keita made a bright start before fading badly, while Fabinho had to wait until October for his first start for the club.

With Keita and Fabinho taking their time to acclimatise to life on Merseyside, Klopp has tended to select a midfield trio comprised of his most experienced players in the big games; captain Jordan Henderson in front of the back four, flanked by Georginio Wijnaldum and James Milner.

That trio have played in both Champions League group games against Napoli, once against PSG and again away to Bayern Munich in the last-16 as well as in four of their nine games against the other top six clubs in the Premier League.

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Dependable as they have been when called upon, Klopps decision to play all three has been criticised at times for being a safety-first move designed to frustrate opposition playmakers rather than force the issue and gain a foothold in midfield. Although each brings quality to the side, none of them are especially creative.

Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson have been key sources of creativity for Liverpool (Getty Images)

Liverpool do not have a Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva or Bernardo Silva equivalent, but Klopp has been quick to highlight the defensive and pressing contributions of his midfielders, while also pinpointing the creativity provided by full-backs Robertson and Alexander-Arnold.

Klopp is right to point out that Liverpools chance creation has come from out wide considering Robertson with nine and Alexander-Arnold with seven, rank first and second for assists provided by defenders in the Premier League this season. Alexander-Arnold even managed a hat-trick of them in one game against Watford in February.

Nevertheless, more has been expected of Liverpools central midfield players to provide telling contributions in the final third, particularly during Salahs recent goal drought. It is a small sample size admittedly, but their previous two games have suggested that could be happening at just the right time.

At long last, Keita registered his first Liverpool goal during the 3-1 win over Southampton last Friday before adding his maiden Champions League goal a couple of days later against Porto. Henderson, meanwhile, notched his first goal and first assist of the campaign at St Marys playing in an advanced role after coming off the bench.

Fabinho is growing in importance to the Liverpool side (Getty Images)

That Keita and Henderson stepped up their efficiency in the final third in those matches is in part due to the presence of Fabinho behind them. Unlike Henderson, who this week admitted that playing further forward is his favoured role, Fabinho is a natural defensive midfielRead More – Source

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