View from the Kop

Has this midfield conundrum finally been solved?


There can be no greater demonstration for me of the merits of a defensive midfielder than Liverpool’s Champions League final victory in Istanbul back in 2005. Rafa Benitez surprised many by picking Xabi Alonso and Steven Gerrard in the centre of midfield, and it left the Reds back four exposed in the first half to the threatening runs of Kaka. Admitting his mistake, Rafa sent on Didi Hamann at half time, and the rest was history as they say. The German holding midfield gave a match winning performance as he stifled Kaka and AC Milan, helping Liverpool to make a dramatic comeback.

Benitez learned his lesson from that night and rarely ever played without a defensive midfielder again, with Mascherano replacing Hamann as the lynchpin in midfield as the German’s age finally caught up with him. With Mascherano and Alonso in midfield, and Gerrard in a more advanced position, it was the foundation of Liverpool’s nearly season in the 2008/09 campaign. The departure of Alonso to Real Madrid and the near exit of Mascherano to Barcelona changed it all that though. While a defensive midfielder was kept in Masch, Alonso’s exit meant there was a gap for someone who could pull the strings offensively in central midfield as well as being able to be positionally disciplined. Alberto Aquilani was the solution that Rafa came up with.

His injury problems however kept him out of action for longer than expected and Benitez opted to play Lucas in the position. Fundamentally an attacking midfielder at his time at Gremio, the Brazilian had been transformed into another defensive midfielder in the mould of Mascherano. Lucas could do a job but he would never fill the boots vacated by Alonso. The return of Alberto Aquilani did not see the straight swap of Lucas and the Italian in the team though. It became apparent early on that Aqua’s preferred position was in a more advanced role where Gerrard had been playing and this was demonstrated by his good performances in the role at the end of last season. A new manager though, brings new ideas, and Hodgson’s free transfer signing of Joe Cole spelt the end of Aquilani’s short career at Anfield. He was not a bad player but he was not the right type of player in Roy’s mind, and this is why I don’t think it was right to criticise his departure from the club. A new manager has his own ideas and will want to bring in his own players; Aqua was Rafa’s signing and Roy felt it was best for him to leave to get first team football.

So what was Roy’s plan? Well, fundamentally it sees Joe Cole in an advanced attacking midfield role behind Fernando Torres. This was only half the plan though. The departure of Javier Mascherano and the arrival of Raul Meireles reveals the other half of it. It means that for the first time in a long time, there will be the lack of an out and out defensive midfielder regularly in the starting eleven. Will this be a good thing? It will be if the Portuguese international lives up to his billing. Meireles is a box to box midfielder; he doesn’t shy away from a physical challenge but he can also pass the ball exceptionally well. The sale of Masch means the centre of midfield will see Meireles playing alongside Steven Gerrard with Joe Cole playing ahead of them. Lucas and Christian Poulsen will no doubt be used, but they will be reserved for games where defensive solidity is key. So far then we have not seen Roy’s plans in action. At the weekend against West Brom we played both Lucas AND Poulsen, something which we might see less of this season with the exception of the Europa League. The absence of Joe Cole through injury has necessitated this change but now with the purchase of Meireles, and Cole only one game away from a return, we can expect to have an exciting, creative midfield in the months to come. It is a job half done though because of the absence of genuine wingers and another striker, but it indicates to me that positive, pass and move football is the direction the team is going.

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  • zam says:

    agreed. Meireles will be focal point of creativity along side Gerrard. Cannot wait to see first appearance of Meireles.

  • Jay Wright says:

    No – our midfield conundrum won’t be solved until we either bring in some proper wingers to make the 4-4-2 work, or change system to a 3 man central midfield with a pair of wide-forwards supporting our focal point up top

  • mg79 says:

    Disagree, the midfield is far from solved. We were poor poor poor against west brom. Our midfield consisted of 2 holding midfield players who can pass backwards, sideways a bit or boot forward….that may be a confidence thing but it needs to change quickly! And the main reason for the boot forward was because we had no width! Numerous times we got the ball on the half way line and the only forward pass was a lofted one to Torres or Gerrard for them to compete 50:50 or most often 40:60 to rescue us! You could Bring Alonso back but if the only pass he has on is backwards or a boot up front there’s nothing he can do either…..natural width needed! Torres can play as a lone striker if he’s not spending 90 minutes chasing balls he’ll never get.

  • pete says:

    did u even read the article? its clearly written that if we play meireles and gerrard with cole in front of those 2, that our midfield creativity problems have been solved.

    nothing was said about poulsen and lucas being our solution, it was even said that those 2 will probably only play in defensive minded games and europa league.

    and i believe kuyt should now be used only as a backup to torres, and maxi/babel should be our right sided wide men, with jova/pacheco for left sided. gives us some nice pace and width.

    people need to look at things objectively before they spout doom and gloom.

    @jay wright,

    if roy plays 4-4-2 ill cry, 442 is dead. i believe tho with the signing of meireles he has clearly shown that he will be playing the very familiar 4-2-3-1 that was employed by benitez, but he will play it with gerrard and meireles as the 2 centrals, which means more attacking play and less back 4 pong, cant wait for cole to be back and for all these guys to gel and start playing well, its going to be good to watch, YNWA

  • Greg says:

    I think you might be being overly optimistic – I think either Poulsen or Lucas will play in most matches, either with Gerrard (and Cole further forward) or Meireles (and Gerrard further forward.)
    As you pointed out, the pairing of Alonso and Gerrard exposed our defense too much, and Roy is just as keen as Rafa was to keep things tight defensively.

  • jason says:

    The midfield can only be solved with new onwership. As Roy is defendsive-minded manager just as Rafa by playing Poulsen and Lucas or Meireles together. We are back in square one with Rafa tactic.

    I think with new onwership coming in, and the whole team will have to be change in order to challenge for the premier league.

    Poulsen, Lucas, Konchensky, Ngog, Maxi, have to shipped out because they aren’t good enough for Liverpool.

    We have to bring in another 2 central midfield to replace Poulsen and Lucas, 2 wing wizards (left and right), 2 strikers (not backup but partner for Torres) and a decent left back and another world class center back. Then, our teams will be complete.

    If not, we cannot challenge Man utd, Chelsea for the title or even Arsenal and Man City for 4th place.
    DOn’t how many people agree with me that Roy is just not the guy to bring thbe club forward. He is drafted instead of Dalglish is because he is a “yes man” to the board and do not stand up to himself.

    I think that if Dalglish is drafted in, he will be getting us a decent striker up front because he is the club favourite, and the board would have to pop up some money for him to spend in order to please the fans.

  • pete says:

    I think the fact that Hodgson tried to ship out Lucas on the last day of the window says that Roy doesn’t consider him in any way our main choice in midfield.

    I can see Gerrard and meireles being used in most games, which can only be a good thing.

    I think poulson will only play alongside gerrard in big games like man u or chelsea, but tbh I hope hodgson has the balls to go out and try and stick 6 past the big teams rather than play a holding mid. Would.be much more interesting to watch.

    And I also don’t get why after only 3 league games, Roy is getting a crap load of stick.from so called fans already. Let the man make HIS team and give them a chance to gel into his style of play.

  • Dennis says:

    I think that Hodgson should look to clear out the rest of the dead wood at the club in january and bring in some class, quality, available, cheap players to bring some more quality, excitement, class, strength to the squad.

    In January, Krygiakos should be sold for £1-£2M, LUCAS should be sold to stoke or Palermos for £5-£7M, Ngog should be sold for £4-£6M and If Inter still want Kuyt for £10-£15M he should sell kuyt.

    Then re invest the money in the side:

    Bring in Stephen Taylor of Newcastle CB for £5-£6M
    Bring in Lassana Diarra Of Real Madrid DM/CM for £7-£10M

    Bring in Royston Drenthe Of Real Madrid to be our out and out left winger for £5-£7M

    Bring in A Turan to be our out and Out Right winger at the club, as we have no out and out wingers at the club at the moment.

    So the 4 4 2 cannot work or run,

    Then lastly we should put in a £17M bid for G Agbonglahor of Aston villa.

    Instead of bidding £10-£14M FOR C COLE, Hodgson should bid for the better player, the more potential and someone who is getting better and better season by season and is still only 23, 24 in october and will be terrorising defenders for many years to come.

  • Popeye says:

    It is just unreal that we have so many specialists out there that know what’s best for the team ,yet the board appoints Roy.
    The man has a cv that any proffecional of any description would be dream of ,yet three weeks into his job the specialists know better.
    How about “we” the specialists of football manager leave the man alone to do his job and be judged in a seasons results with his own team.
    What about doing in what supporters are meant to do.

  • Darren says:

    Too often managers stick to plan A formation without ever looking to use the players in their best way – i guess it keeps things more comfortable for them….. Think back to the england christmas tree formation and southgate filling in as a holding midfielder !! what a lot of use that done.
    anyways, my point is that the shape HAS to be defined by the players available and the best players for 4-4-2 is to have Stevie G occupy right wing.

    however, this is only because everyone has been blinkered to the fact that a new player has joined Liverpool and has dictated the position he wants to play….of course i refer to Joe Cole ! what other club would accept a free transfer signing on mega bucks to do this ?!? and even more, pushing Stevie G out of the role that gets the most out of him and Torres ??! madness and noone seems to care ?!

    so if Woy maintains a vision of 4-4-2, then Gerrard on the right is better than Kuyt/Maxi. leaving Kuyt/Maxi/Babel to be used for Torres and Cole alongside/or tucking in. The left hand side seems to be either Jova or Aurelios. Konchesky gives the back line a bit more steel which will compensate for Jovas bursting runs and lack of experience at left wing.

    Middle of the park would then have to be Meireles alongisde Poulsen/Lucas.

    but again, this is to accomodate 442 which isnt making the most of the players we have !
    team should be 4231: Reina, PK, GJ, DA, JC, Meireles and either Pulsen/Lucas both holding, Jova/Babel/Cole left att mid, Stevie G/Cole att mid centre, Stevie G/Maxi/Kuyt att mid right, Torres up top.

    you’ve still got Skrtel, Kryiagos, Aurelio, Pachecho, Wilson, Ngog, Kelly, Shelvey, Spearing, Darby, Ayala and a few promising youngters coming through the ranks that makes liverpool an impressive line-up, but only when you play to the current squads strengths. It’ll be interesting to see how Roy plays it once everyone is fit, available and not suspended.

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