MAXIMISING MAC ALLISTER: WHAT'S HIS BEST ROLE FOR LIVERPOOL?

After scoring at Brentford, Alexis Mac Allister came up with two assists in another 4-1 win for Liverpool against Luton on Wednesday. It adds to the puzzle of where Jurgen Klopp should play him at Wembley on Sunday.

Mac Allister will come face to face with his former Brighton team-mate Moises Caicedo in that Carabao Cup final.

When the pair last met, the Argentina international won the midfield battle emphatically, producing a standout performance to help Liverpool thump Caicedo's Chelsea 4-1 in the Premier League at Anfield.

Mac Allister's all-round ability was on show on the final day of January, as he topped the tackle statistics in the match, fired three shots at goal and logged a passing accuracy of over 90 per cent.

Caicedo was hooked on 65 minutes.

It was a match-up which seemed to underline the feeling that Liverpool - paying at least £60m less than Chelsea for their signing from the Seagulls - had got the better bargain in last summer's transfer market.

More remarkably, Mac Allister has impressed at Liverpool for much of this season in an unfamiliar holding role. That had never been the masterplan - he was signed at the start of June on the back of his playmaking and attacking metrics at Brighton, which had seen him score 10 times in the Premier League last season.

But at the end of July, offers from Saudi Arabia came in for Fabinho and Jordan Henderson and Mac Allister had to adapt. "It was clearly not the idea. But things changed," said Mac Allister recently. "At the beginning of the season, we didn't have a proper No 6 so I had to do the job. Jurgen likes it. So I try to do my best and it's all about helping the team."

He's certainly done that. Mac Allister's impressive performance away at Man City was a rebuttal to critics who suggested his defensive skills would struggle against Pep Guardiola's creators, while across the season Liverpool average 2.6 goals per game with him involved compared to 1.6 without. Their win percentage jumps by 10 points when he's there.

A knee injury that kept him out of seven games in December highlighted his importance. In the last-gasp win over Crystal Palace and draws with Manchester United and Arsenal, Liverpool missed the fluidity he can bring in the middle of the park.

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Mac Allister's replacement at No 6, Wataru Endo - a more typical holding midfielder - found his feet during that run and ultimately helped Liverpool go top of the table on New Year's Day with victory over Newcastle. But Mac Allister's return in the 2-0 FA Cup win at Arsenal was a reminder of the South American's quality.

Klopp summed up the attributes he brings to that deeper role ahead of the Man City game. "Is Macca a natural-born six? No. Did football develop in the last years in directions we couldn't imagine before? Yes. Does that mean that a player like Macca can play the six? Definitely.

"It depends on how the whole team defends. If we do that properly then we have an incredible player in a central position who can find passes, a forward-thinking player.

"Do you want a player there who is just knocking players down and when we are in possession he thinks 'not my job, give me a break'?"

Looking back on those quotes, it makes it even more intriguing that - just two games on from that win over Caicedo's Chelsea - Klopp opted to move Mac Allister out of that exact role.

But, once again, Mac Allister's position shift has come out of necessity.

Going into the week of the Carabao Cup final, Liverpool have five central midfielders in the treatment room. The absence of Dominik Szoboszlai, in particular, meant Klopp needed a solution in the No 8 position - and Mac Allister was pushed forwards against Burnley, Brentford and Luton.

The move - which included Endo coming back into defensive midfield following his return from the Asian Cup - was rewarded with a goal for Mac Allister at Brentford on Saturday and he crossed for Cody Gakpo to head in against Luton after teeing up Virgil van Dijk with an earlier corner. "When I was in Argentina I used to play as a No 10, so I know what the position means," he said when he was asked about his well-timed run into the box and finish for Liverpool's second goal in their 4-1 win in west London.

But while there are gains in some aspects, it's also true Liverpool are losing something with Mac Allister in this new position - he has less influence on the game as a whole when he starts as a No 8.

In the five matches he has played ahead of Endo this season, Mac Allister averages 29 fewer touches than when he is the man in the middle.

It's no surprise to see his tackles and ball recoveries reduce when he is relieved of some defensive duties - but his increase in crosses and drop-off in passes into the penalty area point to a player who, at times, is being edged wide and losing the opportunity to run, pass or dribble his way into dangerous central areas from deep.

There are set to be late fitness checks on Szoboszlai and fellow central midfielder Curtis Jones ahead of Sunday's Wembley showpiece, so his task may change again. But maximising Mac Allister's midfield output will be a key issue for Klopp to weigh up ahead of the cup final.

Watch Chelsea vs Liverpool in the Carabao Cup final live on Sky Sports Football from 2pm on Sunday; kick-off 3pm.

2024-02-22T12:16:07Z dg43tfdfdgfd