Klopp tries to fill Liverpool’s No 6 gap with time running out

Like on so many other occasions this summer, Liverpool’s week started with a hint of trepidation.

After suggestions of Mohamed Salah leaving for Saudi Arabia were squashed by the Egyptian’s agent, back came the longer-lasting concerns just hours later.

What is going on in midfield? Why has a deal still not been agreed for Southampton’s Romeo Lavia? Are there underlying issues in defence? And after dropping off the pace last season after years of going head to head with Manchester City in the title race, will this season be any better?

The summer months have not yet been as exciting and transformative as expected since Liverpool let go experienced players including James Milner, Roberto Firmino, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Naby Keita and, more recently, Jordan Henderson and Fabinho.

Younger and fresher replacements in Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai have started the rebuilding process but the holding midfield gap still needs to be filled to tighten up the back end of the team.

With Stefan Bajcetic and Thiago still out injured, the only options available to Liverpool ahead of the season opener with Chelsea are Mac Allister or Curtis Jones — both of whom have been used deeper in pre-season, but are players usually more suited to playing higher up the pitch.

As Liverpool’s third attempt to sign Lavia was rejected yesterday, the shortage in midfield is still an issue with the season starting in days.

The sticking point remains the transfer fee. Liverpool have offered around £46million for their top target but the Championship club, Southampton, are digging in their heels — in the same way as they are with other players — and standing by their £50million valuation.

Supporters, who packed out Preston North End’s stadium, Deepdale, on Monday night for the 3-1 win over SV Darmstadt, had anticipated that by now the squad would be significantly stronger than last season.

Former defender Jamie Carragher didn’t hold back in his assessment of the situation, tweeting: “This is embarrassing. Liverpool for years now have got deals done quickly with no fuss. If you don’t think he (Lavia) is worth 50M move on, if you really want him, pay it.”

Carragher also went on to ask why Liverpool were not in the race for Brighton & Hove Albion’s Moises Caicedo, the player Chelsea have made several bids for.

Again the answer lies in the transfer fee. Brighton want £100million and Liverpool so far haven’t been willing to pay half of that for Lavia. The pursuit, therefore, goes on. Fluminese’s 22-year-old midfielder, Andre, is another option and understood to be still under consideration.

How disruptive this wait to fill a key position might be will only be known once the Premier League campaign gets underway, with Liverpool entertaining hopes of returning to the top four.

With Klopp changing the style of play at the back end of last season and now favouring a 3-box-3 formation, there’s a need to have players in the middle of the pitch who can recover quickly when the ball breaks down.

It’s why Lavia, the Belgium international, appeals. The 19-year-old’s pace is recognised as a key trait in his game and a crucial component for what is needed in the holding role of this team.

With a new system that sees right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold move into midfield when in possession, the defence has often been left exposed on the counter-attack, and notably during the pre-season period.

There were warning signs in the 4-3 defeat to Bayern Munich in Singapore last week and even SV Darmstadt scored in a similar way last night.

One simple ball over the top split open a defence that has conceded 11 goals in five pre-season games against mixed opposition this summer.

Mac Allister, who was tasked with playing on the left side of holding midfield showed positive signs when in possession. He won the ball back in dangerous positions and moved the ball around nicely.

Yet like Jones, who was chosen to play in the position against Bayern Munich, he may be supremely talented but he’s not naturally suited to the role, having only played in the position for Brighton occasionally.

So Klopp is edging closer towards creating a solution rather than starting with a natural replacement for Fabinho.

Premier League opposition will be a much tougher test than Darmstadt, the newly promoted Bundesliga side, who were fortunate not to be on the end of a hammering.

Liverpool ran all over the the travelling side without much fuss and, apart from the one mistake which lead to the goal, were largely in control.

One advantage of playing Mac Allister in a deeper midfield role on the left was that it allowed Klopp to squeeze in Szoboszlai, Cody Gakpo, Diogo Jota, Luis Diaz and Salah.

Between them they created havoc and there’s little doubt of the danger Liverpool possess in attacking areas. The front line is a dream but behind them issues remain.

After a summer of change it’s nothing new. The hope is that by Sunday, after Liverpool have completed their trip to Stamford Bridge, some of the questions that hang over this side will be answered.

The key dilemma is what happens in central midfield — and it’s not easy to predict.

(Photo: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

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