Liverpool’s Midfield Troubles

by Kevin Savage

Lucas is out for the season. Gerrard is out indefinitely (presumably with a forthcoming return). Spearing is in the middle of a three game suspension. To say that Liverpool has some trouble to deal with in their midfield is an understatement. With just a few weeks left in the summer transfer window, I thought Liverpool were going to be challenging for the best midfield in the Premier League. Yet, then a host of players transferred or were loaned out. Poulsen (unsurprisingly) moved on. Joe Cole, Alberto Aquilani, and Jonjo Shelvey all loaned out towards the beginning of the season. Gerrard still injured. Meireles leaves for Chelsea on transfer deadline day. Suddenly their midfield was down to six healthy players.

However, all is not lost. The immediate future does not look grim. An away match at Wigan, followed by home games against Blackburn and Newcastle lie ahead in the end of the month. Liverpool’s midfield can survive. The key is Charlie Adam. After the loss of Lucas, he has stepped in to anchor the center of the pitch. In the absense of Jamie Carragher, I believe he deserves to captain the squad. Pepe Reina has been quite a player for the club for many years, but a captain needs to be closer to the action. Against a team like QPR last weekend and Villa on Sunday, when Reina was involved minimally, Liverpool could’ve used a little inspiration from an outfield captain.

The midfield is quite well equipped to round out the rest of their December fixtures. Spearing will be back in a few matches and Gerrard will hopefully be back as soon as possible. But, Liverpool lack depth. They have tried different formations at different points in the past two matches against Fulham and QPR. At Fulham, they employed a 4-5-1 of sorts, with Bellamy and Suarez coming back to help in defense on the wings. I think both were given too much responsibility. Suarez does best with the ball at his feet and open space ahead of him. He can’t do this when defending. Suarez and Bellamy are also not good enough to create attacking moves from a defensive position. This may have been why Carroll struggled. He does better with a man playing alongside him. He doesn’t have the ability to hold up a ball amidst a hoard of defenders. He needs Suarez or Bellamy or Kuyt up there next to him to play off of.

The formation at QPR was much better, but the midfield was still a little flat. Adam and Henderson played in the center, with Downing and Maxi on the wings. For the Villa game, Dalglish returned to the formation used at Fulham, except with Suarez alone up front. Bellamy was the left winger and created more opportunities than at Fulham, with Downing on the right. Shelvey, Adam, and Henderson played in the center of midfield, with Shelvey playing at the top of the triangle. Despite a 2-0 victory, Liverpool still did not create a goal from open play. Suarez hit the woodwork on two occasions and was particularly threatening, but both goals came directly from corner kicks. I think the problem might go back to the attacking midfielder again. I mean no disrespect to 19 year old Shelvey, as he played very well, but he is no Steven Gerrard.

Liverpool needs the attacking spirit of Gerrard. They need a driving force in the center of midfield. They need their captain back. A diamond in midfield (with Gerrard as the attacking central player) would suit them best, with Adam or Spearing fulfilling a more defensive role. With a diamond, they would also probably need another defensive player, so wingers could probably not be employed on both sides. Henderson and Downing would be a wonderful mix. Downing’s attacking form paired with the more conservative play of Henderson would probably work best. Against sides that are less of an attacking threat, two wingers could be started.

Up front, any of the four strikers available to Liverpool would work very well. I think Carroll will do much better in the formation, and Suarez, Bellamy, and Kuyt would do just as well. There is no doubt that goals need to start coming, and fast. Andy Carroll cannot do it alone, as he was often left to do at Fulham, and neither can Suarez, who may be absent for a lengthy period of time in January.

I have seen Liverpool linked with various players with the January transfer window coming up. Without any major injuries, Liverpool appear to be content in the defensive department. Johnson, Kelly, and Enrique provide an attacking presence on the flanks, and Agger, Skrtel, Coates, Carragher, and even Wilson will provide a strong center for a few years. In the midfield/striker area, they need another attacking midfielder, who is preferably young. Gerrard, unfortunately, is on the way out. At 31, he only has a few years left and the man who led Liverpool to a comeback win in Istanbul is very far gone. His constant injury problems also do not help the situation. Another attacking midfielder would hopefully score some goals and provide Suarez and the other forwards with more and better service. Aquilani could provide another option but he will not be back until the summer and is most likely on his way out.

Liverpool navigate a tricky away match to Wigan on Wednesday. Wigan just drew Chelsea at home this weekend. I have seen that Gerrard may be involved in the FA Cup match against Oldham in January, which is still several weeks off. Sunday also saw the return of Jamie Carragher in a brief substitute appearance, playing in front of Agger and Skrtel.

6 Responses

  1. mintox says:

    I’m a little confused, apparently Liverpool are in trouble in their midfield, but they’re also ok because the future does not look grim after all?

    A non existent question over who should be captain then starts to be delved into, with the answer apparently being Charlie Adam, despite no evidence for or against why he should be captain apart from the fact that he plays in the middle of the park and is busier than Reina?

    Liverpool strolled to wins against Villa and QPR, controlling both games but apparently they needed some inspiration from a captain on the field?

    And apparently half way through the article the conclusion is that Liverpool is no longer in trouble and they’re now fine to see out December.

    I’m still a little perplexed at your conclusions on the make up of the midfield. In a team that features Adam, Spearing, Gerrard, Henderson and Shelvey able to play in either a midfield 2 or 3 and remembering of course that any one time we can only play 2 or 3 of these players at any one time. Additionally, the likes of Auerlio did play as a deep lying midfielder for Benitez plus Maxi and Kuyt can both play off a No.9 positioned further up the pitch.

    Carroll has struggled because of the type of passes being made to him, he’s either been asked to play back to goal and hold up possession or get on the end of a cross, whereas his success at Newcastle saw him use his movement off the ball and strength running onto through balls to score. Unfortunately as Kenny prefers Suarez, who plays in similar areas to Carroll, they’re not compatible playing next to each other.

    They don’t need an overhaul of the team, nor do they need drastic changes of formation or even the return of the apparent “talisman” Steven Gerrard. Kenny and Clarke have been great at seeing where we’re going wrong and working on it and we’ve improved many areas of our game over the course of the season. You only need to look at the improvement of Adams positioning when after the first few games, he seemed to be getting caught out of position after every attack, now he’s more measured in his approach and it’s showing dividends. Let the manager get the team playing his game plan, this is a rebuilding year and I don’t expect to see the team at their best until the end of the season.

    1. Kevin Savage says:

      Thank you for your comment. I failed to fully explain some issues in the article and I apologize for that. With regards to the problem in Liverpool’s midfield, I was referring to their lack of depth for the next few matches. Against Villa, Liverpool had Kuyt and Maxi on the bench, both players that play on the wings more often. They had 3 central midfielders on the pitch, but any injuries could have resulted in a big problem.

      With the issue of captaincy, Charlie Adam has produced some very good performances in the past few matches and has experience with his captaincy at Blackpool. And yes, Liverpool did control both matches, but their lack of goals could prove a problem. In the QPR match, Liverpool could not keep up their intense pressure for the last 20 minutes or so. This could come back to haunt them against stronger squads.

      I also outlined the need for a good attacking midfielder. Jonjo Shelvey was placed in this role at the weekend, but he still lacks experience that I think is needed for the role. Gerrard could fulfill this role for at least the short term future. A powerful attacking midfielder could provide better service to Suarez and/or Carroll, which would hopefully result in more goals.

      1. mintox says:

        Well Jonjo was sent out to get experience and rightly so, with such a long list of midfielders at the start of the season, he wasn’t going to get much game time.

        Now however, I’m happy to see them persevere with him in that position and gain that experience at the club.

        This should be a season of rebuilding, and at the end we can look at what we need to bring in to strengthen the squad. If after a season in the first team, Shelvey proves to be inadequate we can always sell him on.

  2. Jack Rigelsford says:

    When fully fit, Gerrard is an outstanding, box to box player, but I don’t think we’re ever going to see that again, so, as you said, a replacement for him would be good. Shelvey’s an adequate back-up, but he lacks experience still, and I’m sure Dalglish would rather he be on loan at a top Championship club getting valuable experience.

    You’re spot on about Carroll, in the formation we play with him on the pitch, it always leaves him isolated and pretty much useless. Even the balls into his chest and crosses have been poor, so that could be why he’s been so poor at Liverpool. Not sure whether the constant through balls thing was really the main reason for his success, but Newcastle definitely used him in a variety of ways, and the service to him was far better than it is from Liverpool, which is disappointing, considering Downing’s crossing ability, and Adam’s passing skill.
    Sorry to plug my own articles, but every view helps :) http://peaktimesonline.wordpress.com/2011/12/23/can-carroll-fill-suarezs-boots/

    1. Kevin Savage says:

      Thanks for the comment Jack. I am hoping Liverpool can return to goalscoring form on Monday at Anfield against Blackburn. I am also hoping that both Andy Carroll and Steven Gerrard get a run in the squad off the bench, perhaps together. It is rumored that Gerrard may be at least partially fit for the match and I think a brief substitute appearance would do him well, especially if the game is not close.

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