James Milner

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Liverpool 3-0 Maribor: Reds waltz to win

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  • Reds lead Sevilla by one point
  • Salah nets deciding goal
  • Can, Sturridge also score

It wasn’t 7-0, but it’ll do.

Maribor held a bit firmer on the road, but Liverpool stayed atop its UEFA Champions League group with a 3-0 win at Anfield on Wednesday.

Emre Can, Daniel Sturridge, and — surprise, surprise — Mohamed Salah scored for the Reds.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

Liverpool’s first half was unfortunately all too familiar to the Anfield faithful, as the Reds dominated play but couldn’t find the back of the net.

How dominant were Jurgen Klopp‘s men? How about 84 percent possession and a 12-1 advantage in shot attempts.

If it was going to take something special to beat Jasmin Handanovic, and Salah provided just that. Trent Alexander-Arnold‘s cross was turned into a goal by what essentially a back-heeled volley.

Handanovic then stopped a James Milner penalty attempt drawn by Roberto Firmino.

Can got Liverpool’s second in the 64th minute to help Klopp and Co. breathe easier at Anfield, while Sturridge salted the result away.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Milner: Liverpool “waiting for it to click”

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Jurgen Klopp has been in charge of Liverpool for just over two calendar years, but according to Premier League vet James Milner, things just haven’t come together. Yet.

With Liverpool sitting in 6th position in the Premier League table and set to take on NK Maribor in Champions League play on Wednesday, the 31-year-old claims Liverpool still needs time to get things right with the squad.

“We have had injuries and I think we are waiting for it to click,” Milner said ahead of the game. “We have shown glimpses – when we showed it in Maribor, it was pretty devastating. We have to be on top of our game, set the tempo and come out all guns blazing.”

Milner is referring to the reverse fixture of this matchup, when they clobbered the Slovenian side on the road in Eastern Europe 7-0 14 days ago. Following that match, however, the Reds came home and lost to Spurs at Wembley Stadium 4-1, followed by a 3-0 win against Huddersfield. That inconsistency is what has thus far kept Klopp from challenging for the Premier League title.

Aside from a run of four consecutive wins in mid-to-late August, Liverpool has not won back-to-back games all year across all competitions. Coming off that Huddersfield triumph, Klopp would do well to keep the run going as they head back to the English capital for a meeting with West Ham this coming weekend.

Tactics Session: Liverpool’s midfield to blame for poor defending, too

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Here’s something said by anyone and everyone who’s watched an hour of the Premier League over the last 24 months: Liverpool won’t win the PL title until Jurgen Klopp sorts out that shambolic defense.

[ PL ROUNDUP: Man City’s historic start; Man United, Arsenal win ]

Well, duh, and thanks for really going out on a limb with that one.

On Saturday, NBC Sports’ Robbie Earle went error-by-error in picking apart one of the Reds’ many defensive breakdowns (above video) during last weekend’s 4-1 defeat at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur. In short, Dejan Lovern, Joel Matip, Joe Gomez and Simon Mignolet were all guilty of critical errors as Harry Kane opened the scoring after just four minutes. There’s another group of players, though, which is worth considering as opponents continue to pick Liverpool apart on a near-weekly basis.

[ PL PREVIEW: Battle of the new bosses; Brighton vs. Southampton ]

Theory: it’s actually Liverpool’s midfield which is most responsible for this season’s repeated disasters at the back. The results are as poor as they’ve ever been under Klopp — they had the worst defensive record of the PL’s “big six” sides during Klopp’s first (partial) season at Anfield, followed by the second-worst of the six last season, and are sixth out of six thus far in 2017-18 — with little reason to expect significant change as the defensive characters remain the same. When called upon in 2016-17, again, it was simply more of the same.

The key difference being: they were better protected, thus forced into action less frequently, in the past. Whether by design or happenstance, the midfield and forward lines aren’t disrupting possession and winning the ball back as consistently as previous iterations of Klopp’s old gegenpress system. Most notably, it’s the early moments (first five seconds, or three passes) of opposition possession which haven’t been challenged with that familiar urgency.

[ MORE: England top Spain, win U-17 World Cup ]

Take, for instance, that loss to Tottenham — while Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Emre Can are probably the three most “defensive” midfield options in Klopp’s squad, they’re also the three least mobile and press-suited. Georginio Wijnaldum is often labeled an “attacking” midfielder, that what makes him perfectly suited for the transition from pressing to attacking. The same goes for Adam Lallana, who’s currently injured and gutting this side through his absence. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, should he ultimately end up in central midfield, is very similar in that regard. Marko Grujic, while still a relative PL unknown, profiles better as a central midfielder than the three who started at Wembley Stadium.

Without that constant on-ball pressure, Mauricio Pochettino was inspired in his tactical tweak to feature Harry Winks, Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli in a pass-heavy midfield-three, as the three on-ball technicians were able to play through the middle third of the field with very little resistance and get at the likes of Lovren, Matip and Gomez more directly. The return of starting right back Nathaniel Clyne (hamstring), who hasn’t played a minute this season, will undoubtedly add a bit more mobility and athleticism to an otherwise plodding rearguard.

It’s a trend that, should it continue, will result in more and more — and easier and easier — goals conceded by the Reds.

Watch Live: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Liverpool

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Tottenham Hotspur looks to keep Liverpool in its rear view mirror with a win at Wembley Stadium on Sunday (Watch live at 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The Reds can move a point back of third-placed Spurs with a win.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

Georginio Wijnaldum will miss with a reported injury, as Jordan Henderson, James Milner, and Emre Can start in Jurgen Klopp‘s midfield.

For Spurs, it’ll be Harry Winks starting over Eric Dier in an otherwise fairly standard unit.

LINEUPS

Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris, Trippier, Alderweireld, Sanchez, Vertonghen, Aurier, Winks, Dele, Eriksen, Son, Kane. Subs: Vorm, Rose, Nkoudou, Sissoko, Llorente, Dier, Davies.

Liverpool: Mignolet, Gomez, Matip, Lovren, Moreno, Henderson, Milner, Can, Salah, Coutinho, Firmino. Subs: Karius, Grujic, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alexander-Arnold, Solanke, Klavan, Sturridge.

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Reports: Liverpool agree deal for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

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Multiple reports claim that Liverpool have agreed a fee of $45.2 million with Arsenal for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

[ MORE: Latest transfer news ] 

Arsenal had agreed the same fee with Chelsea on Tuesday but Oxlade-Chamberlain turned down a move to the reigning Premier League champions.

Chamberlain, 24, reportedly wanted to play in a central midfield role and felt that if he stayed at Arsenal or moved to Chelsea he would continue to play at right wing back.

[ STREAM: Deadline Day show ] 

The England international will now discuss personal terms and have a medical ahead of his move to Anfield, but it is already being reported that Oxlade-Chamberlain will sign a six-year deal at Liverpool.

Liverpool have already signed winger Mohamed Salah from AS Roma for $47 million, young striker Dominic Solanke for a tribunal fee and left back Andrew Robertson for $10.3 million this summer.

Jurgen Klopp has also agreed a club-record $71.2 million deal for RB Leipzig midfielder Naby Keita who will join the Reds next summer, plus reports continue to link them with moves for Thomas Lemar of AS Monaco and Virgil Van Dijk of Southampton.

If the Ox does agree personal terms then he will be challenging the likes of Jordan Henderson, Emre Can, Georginio Wijnaldum and James Milner for a spot in central midfield, but his versatility means he can easily line up out wide as an attacker or even fill in as a wing back when needed.

Who does this deal suit best?

Arsenal have got a big fee for a player who has been on the fringes for the past few seasons and has never truly fulfilled his potential after arriving from Southampton in 2011 due to injuries and constantly being in and out of Arsene Wenger‘s plans.

Liverpool have a player who has gained considerable experience for someone just 24 years old and is now ready to realize his potential after impressive displays over the last eight months.

And Oxlade-Chamberlain has a chance to play in the UEFA Champions League and to establish himself as a regular for a top four Premier League side and for the England national team.

It seems like everyone wins with this deal.