For much of the season we walked a tightrope in attack with an over reliance on Suarez’s goals, with a first out-of-sorts, and then injured Borini, being our only other option. We overplayed Sterling to the point of burnout, have tried Enrique as a left winger, and one moment told Downing he would be sold and then played him every game since.
However, we’ve still managed 42 goals – 1 more than Tottenham who sit 7 points ahead in the coveted 4th place.
In defence it’s often been said how strong the side looks on paper – with the imperious Agger being injury-free all season, our player of last season Skrtel (though he makes too many errors for my liking) partnering him, probably the best fullback in the league this season in Glen Johnson and either Enrique or Wisdom making up the back four. Carra has also looked solid on his few appearances. However, we’ve still conceded a disappointing 30 goals – more than all the teams above us except Man United, who despite conceding 1 more, are a massive 24 points ahead thanks to their almost unstoppable attack. Nevertheless, if all players were fit and on form we know which back four would play.
Midfield, however, has been our most inconsistent area and hence often our most contentious in team selection. Only a few years ago Alonso, Mascherano and Gerrard were the permanent fixtures in our best season for 20 years, but this season, just when we think we’ve found the right combination, the midfield trio ends up disappointing. When fit, 2 of the 3 are guaranteed starters – Lucas and Gerrard. With Gerrard regaining his form playing deeper but just ahead of Lucas, the one position that no one has nailed is the 3rd man in midfield; the attacking midfield role. Rodgers has tried Gerrard in this role, where he played so successfully with Torres ahead, but without better midfielders behind him Stevie hasn’t been his best further forward, looking much more comfortable deeper using his range of passing and urgency to control games more effectively.
So with a back four, a front three and Lucas and Gerrard already in midfield, who is the 3rd man? Whether you call it attacking central midfield, the No.10 position or a trequartista, different players play the position differently. Let’s look at the contenders.
This is Jonjo’s preferred position. It’s where he played for Charlton, and it’s from where he’s scored most of his goals for us. Jonjo has put in impressive performances in the Europa League and showed an excellent understanding with Sturridge when the latter made his debut. However he’s also shown his immaturity in the inconsistency in his performances. He clearly has an eye for a goal and pass, but too often misses easy goalscoring opportunities and can disappear for long stretches in games. Easily frustrated when he can’t find space, he lets this show in his body language and the recklessness of his tackles. He’s been out of the side recently but will be eager to win his place back.
Despite never playing this position before, Brendan Rodgers decided to play Allen in the attacking midfield role against Man United at Old Trafford. Unsurprisingly Allen was anonymous, unable to get on the ball and not sure what to do when on it. This isn’t his position.
The young Spaniard has dropped out of the squad of late following the signing of Sturridge and return to fitness of Borini. He’s been used cutting in from a wide right position, but anyone who’s seen him play for Spain under 19s wouldn’t doubt that he is better centrally. Like Shelvey, Suso isn’t blessed with pace, but he is still able to beat a player with a jink and a drop of a shoulder, and has a lovely range and accuracy of pass. While a lack of physicality and comfort in goalscoring positions perhaps means he’s not ready to hold down this position in the first team yet, he may make a much stronger claim over the coming years.
The man in possession, in recent weeks has used his energy and stamina well to harry the opposition midfielders and run beyond, stretching opposition defences. Despite scoring a really good goal against Arsenal, dribbling past defenders and taking advantage of lucky ricochets a la Luis Suarez, Jordan still looks nervous and unsure of himself when he gets closer to goal. Better composure or better technique may have led to even more goals at the Emirates, and he needs to work on his final ball. He’s no number 10 – much more an additional man in midfield – but against better teams that swamp the midfield Henderson may be a more pragmatic choice.
With Sturridge looking like he will play as the central striker, this is my preferred position for Suarez, but only if we have solid midfielders behind him. Luis is a World Class player and for me I’d like to see him as involved with our play as possible, which is why I don’t like to see him farmed out to the left. He was excellent in the no.10 role against Norwich, when Lucas and Gerrard comfortably dominated midfield, but while he still played well against Oldham in the same role, a weak central pairing of Allen and Henderson meant we didn’t control midfield so Luis was starved of possession and we were too often on the back foot. While he scored and worked tirelessly against Arsenal from the left, it was a shame to see such a key player limited in this way.
Well, he has the No. 10 shirt! I’ll admit I haven’t seen much of the lad so am not going to make any bold statements on what he can or can’t do if he plays in this role. I’m not the sort to get carried away by You Tube clips. I have, however, watched him play for Espanyol and he looked effective running at pace from the left side. He didn’t seem fazed when in goalscoring positions, but how this translates to being effective against Premier League defences with Premier League referees, who don’t give as many fouls as Spanish or Italian ones, we’ll have to wait and see. What I will say is that I would rather see Luis in this role than Coutinho.
The 3rd man role is still very much an open issue. Until one of the above players steps up and plays consistently well in the role I expect Brendan Rodgers will chop and change its occupant dependant on form, opposition or tactics.
I believe Suarez should play here, making our formation more of a 4-4-1-1 than a typical 4-3-3, but whoever does play, they will have a very important say on how we do for the remainder of the season.
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