Date: 24th November 2010 at 4:00pm
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It hasn’t been the most forgiving of starts to Raul Meireles’s Liverpool career. He was brought in under a black cloud of pessimism, following Javier Mascherano’s tasteless and sanctimonious exit. The first 5 months have been a mix of the bad and the pitiful but Meireles has remained a positive beacon in all the darkness; sometimes flickering, often shining (even dimly), however on Saturday evening the Portuguese international positively beamed, having easily the best game of his Liverpool career so far and it was no coincidence that it came with his captain’s absence.

Those of us that have been Liverpool fans since before the Champion’s League win in 2005 will remember that Xabi Alonso’s first few months at the club weren’t thrilling, much like Meireles. However, as with the Spain man, it was through no fault of his own. When Alonso arrived he was greeted with suspicion; was this young Spaniard brought in to replace Gerrard? Was the Captain’s time up? So inevitably, Xabi was initially treated slightly negatively. It didn’t take him long to turn this around thought, as a few games with Gerrard either rested or injured and fans finally got to see how the Spaniard was able to control the flow and passing of his whole team from the centre of the field; he reminded us of Jan Molby with his supreme range of passing and unflappable demeanor. And we’d have given anything to have a player of his calibre back in the side. Now, that is not to say that Meireles is of the quality of either of these players but watching him in Gerrard’s absence on Saturday evening struck me with a sense deja vu.

Nobody doubts Gerrard’s quality or importance to the side but his presence in the centre of midfield can often stifle the other midfielders and thus, our style of play. Gerrard likes to do it all; is always demanding the ball and feels the pressure to always be the match winner but this is not the case. We saw in the last few years of Benitez’s reign that Gerrard became integrated – with great effect – into a superb midfield system, playing at the sword-point of a five man system, just behind Torres. Here, he had all the freedom he needed; was involved in pretty much every move and because he wasn’t in the thick of midfield the quartet were able to function as an effective unit – one of the best in Europe. Since Roy arrived, Gerrard has seen himself moved around a lot, often starting behind Torres but in reality, he is playing much further behind the striker in a very defensive-minded 5-man midfield. Because of the new manager’s defensive style, the creativity of a player like Meireles has been stifled and we have only seen glimpses of what he can do.

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