Wataru Endo has become Liverpool's Unforeseen Midfield Maestro

Amidst Liverpool's injury crisis, the Japanese star is stepping up.
Liverpool FC v Luton Town - Premier League
Liverpool FC v Luton Town - Premier League / Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/GettyImages

When Liverpool FC added Wataru Endo to the squad for a modest £16 million fee during the summer in 2023, football fans from other rival teams were mocking this transfer amidst the Reds being ruled out from the competition of gaining Ecuador international Moises Caicedo and Belgian midfielder Romeo Lavia. 

Fast forward to now, after witnessing his strong performances, people are starting to realize the true value of Endo, who is currently the only defensive midfielder in Liverpool's wounded squad. 

The first meeting between Liverpool and Luton Town FC this season, Endo was sitting on the bench without playing a minute.

Clashing up with the Hatters again recently, Endo started the match and stayed active back-and-forth, contributing a team-high three blocks and tackles to guarantee a non-conceded comeback in the second half.

Endo’s integration into the team was gradual, stemming from his appearances in the UEFA Europa League and EFL Cup before making significant impacts in the Premier League.

A defining moment that highlighted his importance came against Fulham in December, where he came off the bench to score a spectacular equalizer. This performance marked his transition to a more essential role in Liverpool's midfield, especially during the absence of Alexis Mac Allister due to injury ​in December.

Before bringing his talent to Anfield, the 30-year defensive midfielder had showcased his physicality and game-reading while playing with VfB Stuttgart in the Bundesliga.

With the Kops being concerned about Endo’s adaptability, the Japanese Captain, having the most duels and the second-winning possessions in the Bundesliga last year, cast aside any doubts through his first few matches.

To date, he has shown great game intelligence and awareness, coupled with his work ethic during matches, makes him a natural fit for manager Jürgen Klopp's system.

Since Klopp has been annoyed by the defensive weakness for years, Endo spotlighted himself as a reliable option to cover things at the back.

It’s safe to say that Endo’s absence is another reason for Liverpool’s frustrating loss to Arsenal in early February because the Reds had not lost one game in all 11 games he started. 

Tactically, Endo's presence in midfield allows Liverpool to maintain a more controlled approach to matches.

His ability to win duels, intercept passes, and make crucial tackles has been vital. In recent matches, his aerial prowess and defensive devotions have been on full display. Endo is successfully replicating the metrics of Liverpool’s former midfielder anchor, Fabinho.

This season, the 5 '10 midfielder won 50% of aerial duels and recorded 61 loose ball recoveries in his 18 appearances on the season. 

Despite his unremarkable percentage of tackling and challenging dribblers (27.3 Tkl%), Endo's ability to cover for teammates, such as providing defensive cover for Trent Alexander-Arnold, has been particularly valuable, He is always in the right spot to break up a play.

Amidst the injury waves in the squad, Endo has become the only option for Klopp to place in the midfield with defensive purpose.

The team also rested some backbones such as Dominik Szoboszlai and Curtis Jones, leaving no more offensive conductor to create opportunities.

Surprisingly, Endo altered his game to cover the role. Down one to Luton Town on Wednesday, Endo dribbled down the field after trickily breaking away from center forward Cauley Woodrow’s tackle, delivering a clinical volley to Luis Diaz in the box after a slight glance to the front.

Diaz stabbed it off the left bar through a two-man defense, wasting the most threatening chance to tie proceedings in the first half.

Endo is capable of covering Alexander-Arnold who maneuvered offensive plays from the back. Though Endo doesn’t have his amazing full-field vision, Endo still completed 47 passes of 51 attempts against Luton Town, putting up his highest completion percentage (92.2) with at least 50 pass attempts in this season, including six shot-creating actions and four progressive passes.

This season so far, he has completed 86.7% of his passes. He has shattered the Return on Investment to this point as he was an afterthought in the summer.

Overall, Endo's contributions to Liverpool extend beyond his defensive duties. His ability to transition the ball, cover defensively for teammates, and contribute to offensive plays is leading him to a key role for the Reds to rush for silverware.

As the injuries linger, Endo will be expected to take an increased responsibility in the midfield in the starting XI against Chelsea in Sunday's EFL Carabao Cup Final.