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Jürgen Klopp just found what he wanted in Liverpool midfield and Mohamed Salah moments prove it

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Jürgen Klopp just found what he wanted in Liverpool midfield and Mohamed Salah moments prove it

Alexis Mac Allister made his Liverpool debut against Chelsea last weekend and topped some very important statistical categories that will have pleased Jürgen Klopp.

There are some Liverpool debuts that supporters can instantly recall. Virgil van Dijk wrote his name into Merseyside derby folklore by knocking Everton out of the FA Cup with an 84th-minute winner, while Sadio Mané scored a goal so good in his first game for the Reds that he simply had to jump onto Jürgen Klopp’s back.

By these standards, Alexis Mac Allister’s Liverpool bow was relatively low-key. But let’s not undersell his performance in the 1-1 draw at Chelsea either, as it offered plenty of encouragement for the future.

This is truer still when you consider he was playing in a position other than the one in which he is expected to play. Equally, it offered up the tantalizing prospect of fielding a defensive midfielder with his playmaking skills.

Luis Díaz’s goal offered ample evidence of that. The assist pass from Mohamed Salah was a perfectly weighted, threading-the-eye-of-the-needle delivery but the ball into the Egyptian from Mac Allister was equally wonderful.

More notably, it was the sort of pass so rarely seen from a holding midfielder at Liverpool. This is not to say the previous incumbents were incapable of such moments, of course. We can recall wonderful assists from Jordan Henderson to Salah — when they’re at Goodison Park and Old Trafford, they tend to be memorable — while Fabinho assisted the Reds’ number 11 on four occasions during their time together.

But the numbers speak for themselves. FBRef carries a metric called Goal Creating Actions, which awards credit to the two actions (passes, take-ons, shots, fouls suffered or defensive actions) directly preceding a goal. Fabinho averaged a shade under six per season in the Premier League, with Henderson slightly below seven over the six campaigns for which the data is available. Mac Allister, by contrast, recorded eight last term and is already off the mark for 2023/24.

The Argentine linked up well with Salah throughout the match at Chelsea and almost played him through on goal but for a smart defensive intervention. As well as for the pre-assist, Mac Allister made two other gorgeous long passes to Liverpool’s right-forward, and his total of six to Salah was only one shy of his most frequent pass combination (which was with Ibrahima Konaté and Andy Robertson).

The former Brighton man was also responsible for two of the Reds’ three switch passes (those which travel more than 40 yards across the width of the pitch). Liverpool topped the Premier League for this brand of pass last season and rely on them to help spread the play, so we can expect to see Mac Allister delivering plenty more switches over the next few years.

The World Cup winner showed his dribbling prowess too, if not in a showy or flashy manner. Mac Allister completed 13 carries of at least five meters when none of his teammates recorded more than nine, progressing the ball toward goal a total of 102 yards (roughly a sixth of the team’s total).

While Klopp will have enjoyed seeing all of that from his summer signing, the Liverpool boss will have loved some of his defensive work. The 24-year-old made three ball recoveries in the final third, the joint-most of any player in the Premier League in the opening match week of 2023/24. Pleasingly from a Reds viewpoint, one of them was in the first minute and another in the 88th, suggesting a midfield that was in dire need of hard running throughout the duration of games has found it.

In fairness, Mac Allister had plenty of opportunities to make recoveries as Liverpool had such little ownership of the ball. Only once since the 2018 Champions League final have the Reds had a lower possession figure in the league or Europe than they had at Stamford Bridge on Sunday (35 per cent).

But while this might provide an artificial boost to some of the Argentine’s defensive numbers, just think what it will mean in the opposite direction when the Reds dominate possession as they so often do. Mac Allister’s performance at Chelsea was a delicious hors d’ouevre for what he will offer Liverpool this season.

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