Two things worried me about the starting line up that Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson opted for in tonight’s match against FC Utrecht. 1) Starting both Christian Poulsen and Lucas Leiva in central midfield would inevitably lead to a lack of creativity and 2) Starting four central midfield players in Meireles, Cole, Poulsen and Lucas would lead to a lack of width. On both counts I was proved right by the final whistle.
On the first count, it beggars belief for me that with both Joe Cole and Raul Meireles, both experienced international playmakers, you opt to play them both out of position while opting to play two holding players in midfield. There would be less to complain about if both Poulsen and Lucas did their defensive duties well but the pair, especially Lucas, lacked any real bite in the tackle tonight. At one point Lucas messed up a simple short ball and fouled his opponent in a dangerous area just outside the penalty box while trying to rectify his mistake. Without being too harsh on Lucas though, the rest of the team were hardly at their most alert on the ball either, and although the slippery surface did play a part, the team found it very difficult in general to keep possession, especially in the second half.
The second point is even more perplexing and although I am fully aware that Roy Hodgson likes to play 4-4-2, tonight was not the night to play it, especially without a recognised winger on the pitch. Most Reds fans would agree that Roy doesn’t have the best wide players at his disposal at the club but to play none of them, in a 4-4-2, just doesn’t make any sense. With the players we had available, Meireles should have replaced Gerrard in central midfield while Cole could have played off Torres. For the wingers I would have opted for either Ryan Babel or Dirk Kuyt on the right with Milan Jovanovic on the left. At least then there would have been a semblance of balance to the team.
As it was, the whole 90 minutes saw Meireles and Cole cutting in field to help out Torres and Kuyt while Poulsen and Lucas just sat in midfield without contributing much creatively. For me such tactics suggest Roy Hodgson really doesn’t know what his best midfield is, trying players in different positions (Cole switched from attacking midfield to left wing, Meireles from attacking midfield to right side) to see if he can find the right combination. Another worrying comment came from Clive Tyldesley on commentary who said he asked Roy whether Torres would be happier playing alongside another striker, and Roy replied “I don’t know.” For a manager with three and half decades in management, surely he should know what a player like Torres is capable of.
To add to this troubling lack of certainty over personnel, Roy failed to change anything in the second half until he took off one of our most creative players in Joe Cole, and put on Maxi Rodriguez on the left hand side; another player playing out of position. At the moment, things are just not good enough from the manager and the players, and while Roy is trying to find his feet at the club, we are slipping further and further back from those at the top of the league table. Roy, find your best team and tactics quickly or your spell as manager could be briefer than you had anticipated.
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