By Thomas Williams
This summer’s transfer window has had Liverpool fans tweeting and speculating over left backs, centre backs and wingers. That’s not a surprise, Fabio Aurelio and Jack are the only left backs in our entire squad unless you are narcissistic enough to include Paul Konchesky, and whilst Fabio is a fantastic player on his day he has had a Liverpool career plagued with injuries. Jack Robinson looks a fantastic prospect, but that is all he can be considered at this point, a prospect. I could tell similar stories in relation to our centre backs and wingers (if you can call the likes of Jovanovic and Cole wingers) but I’m sure that you’ll have heard it all before.
One position that very few could conceive a weakness in the side is centre midfield and its attacking and defensive variants. Why then, is this the position that Liverpool seems to be focusing the most effort on strengthening? The signing of Jordan Henderson, whilst being a good one for the present and a potentially fantastic one for the future, has brought our total number of first team central midfielders to eight. On top of this, the possibility of signing Charlie Adam has been on the cards since January and doesn’t look like going away anytime soon. This poses a problem, surely eight or nine central midfielders is an unsustainable number.
Lucas Leiva – Defensive Midfielder – 24 years of age.
My choice for player of the season this year, Lucas has been one of the few players that I could say without reservation has performed all season. At 24 he fits in with the club philosophy and there is no chance of him leaving. He has been nothing short of massive for the team in his ball winning defensive midfielder roll and will surely continue to build on his recent development next season.
Jay Spearing – Defensive Midfielder – 22 years of age.
Jay had a brilliant end to the season coming in to cover for injuries to more prominent members of the squad. He plays a similar role to Lucas, winning the ball back from the opposition and playing the simple passes to turn over possession successfully. At 22 he is a young player but one that has only just made his name in the first team line up, whether he will be able to compete with the sort of competition he is in for this season is debatable, never the less, I can’t see him going anywhere just yet.
Christian Poulsen – Defensive Midfielder – 31 years of age.
Poulsen has nothing in his favour; he’s 31, he barely warmed the bench last season under Kenny Dalglish and when he has played he’s looked out of his depth. He will surely leave the club this summer.
Steven Gerrard – Central Midfielder/ Attacking Midfielder – 31 years of age.
What can you say about this man, an impeccable servant to the club and one of the greatest names in its illustrious history. At 31 he isn’t getting any younger but he has a fair few years left in him and I hope he will retire at the club. His role next season will be interesting, younger players are coming through and while none of them can touch Steven, they will need game time.
Jordan Henderson – Central Midfielder/ Right-Sided Midfielder – 21 years of age.
Our 20 million pound man, his potential advantage in the battle for play time is his ability to play at right midfield, this still gives him a certain Dirk Kuyt to try and beat to the first eleven however. The signing gives King Kenny a bit of an issue going into next season, Jordan is certainly one for the future and a signing that has been backed the Liverpool faithful but leaving a signing with his fee on the bench will raise questions amongst some.
Raul Meireles – Central Midfielder/ Attacking Midfielder – 28 years of age.
Roy Hodgeson’s only successful signing from last season has already been touted as one of those who may be on the way out. He has the advantage of a competence on the left wing that our other central midfielders don’t have, one that he may end up utilizing given our squad’s thinness on that wing. He is one of a plethora of players that flourished with the arrival of Kenny Dalglish and personally, I really hope we hold on to him.
Alberto Aquilani – Central Midfielder/ Attacking Midfielder – 26 years of age.
After a June filled with speculation regarding his future, it may well lie at Anfield following a lack of interest from Italian clubs. Aquilani is a player that never really had a chance to make his name at Liverpool for whatever reason and spent the season on loan to Juventus. At 26 he isn’t quite at his peak and may prove to be a valuable asset next season. It is difficult to imagine a situation in which Aquilani, Meireles and Charlie Adam could all be at the club come the 1st of September.
Charlie Adam – Central Midfielder – 25 years of age.
Probably the player that we are most likely to sign this transfer window, Charlie can play on the left wing and would bring unparalleled set pieces and crossing to the side, as well as to a certain Andy Carroll’s head. He would cost somewhere between 7 and 10 million pounds according to reports but the switch is difficult to justify considering the names above him in this list.
Jonjo Shelvey – Central Midfielder/ Attacking Midfielder – 19 years of age.
Jonjo is definitely one for the future and will struggle to compete for places with the other players in the squad. Last season he featured a fair amount despite being hampered by injury, even filling in at left back on one occasion. If competition for places is as rife as this list suggests a stint out on loan to one of the weaker Premiership clubs might become an option, maybe Roy Hodgeson fancies another go with him?
Clearly we cannot ask 8 players to compete for the traditional 2 central midfield positions in the conventional 4-4-2. Whether this situation is one that has been deliberately constructed, or one that has occurred due to deals for Aquilani and Meireles falling through is unknown. It is possible that Kenny is simply holding out for the right price for Alberto and Raul and if both deals go through, along with the inevitable exit of Poulsen then the problem would be considered solved. If, however, King Kenny has deliberately gathered such a number of central midfielders, especially seeing as we aren’t in Europe next season, then he must have something up his sleeve. Here are the formations and tactics I feel could be implemented next season, I would love to read some possible alternatives if anybody can think of them.
The Wide Central Midfielders
Raul Meireles and Charlie Adam can both play on the left wing and Jordan Henderson and Steven Gerrard can both play on the right. While not ideal, this solution would put us in the position to play a consistently strong midfield in all three competitions for the entirety of next seasons. All four players are fantastic crossers and whilst they don’t bring the flair, pace and dribbling skills of conventional wingers like Mata and N’Zogbia, they are a more rounded option in a conventional 4-4-2. The level of passing and creativity in a midfield consisting of Adam, Meireles, Aquilani and Gerrard would be fantastic and quite a prospect for home games in which we look to attack from the off. Equally Lucas or Spearing taking the place of Meireles or Adam in the centre in more defensive line-ups could work well.
This is a possibility brought up by Michael Elmore in his article on Saturday. Essentially, this formation would explain the number of Central Midfielders we have gathered by playing more of them every game. I like this formation as it allows Suarez to move into a position he thrived in against Fulham and Birmingham and even more so, it allows Lucas and Spearing to break up the opponents. The 4-3-3 is a formation that has become more and more prominent in modern football as teams look to outnumber their opponents’ central midfield in order to play a possession game at home and a direct counter-attacking one that uses long balls to its advanced wide men away from home. One possible problem with this option is our lack of strength in depth when it comes to wingers and strikers. Unlike wingers in the 4-4-2, the 4-3-3 requires pacey skilful wingers like John Barnes or Florent Malouda. If we were to play with such a strategy, we would need a marquee signing such as Mata for the left wing role as well as some depth in the form of a back-up target man and wingers, by that thinking Connor Wickham may well have been an envisaged understudy for Andy Carroll.
Also known as the 5-3-2 this formation utilizes wingbacks instead of wingers, a three man central defence and a three man central midfield. The formation would deal with the issue of the number of central midfielders in the squad in the same way as the 4-3-3 and probably result in Dirk Kuyt becoming an out and out striker with other wingers finding themselves out of a job. It was King Kenny’s solution to the problem posed by Chelsea in the game that made Torres look very silly indeed, but it has to be considered the complete outsider. The formation is so rarely used in the premier league its value probably lies in its novelty as much as anything, whilst it does get the best out of Glen Johnson, wingers have shaped the modern game and playing none of them has to be considered a huge risk.
A Combination of The 4-3-3 and The Wide Central Midfielders
As reluctant as I am to sit on the fence, I feel this is the best option for Liverpool next season. We don’t have the strength in depth to make the 4-3-3 formation one that we can field every single week and the 4-4-2 with Central Midfielders on the wing lack the flair and pace that can steal wins from those away games where we lose out in the battle for possession. Having extreme depth in Central Midfield allows for such a versatile squad that we can tailor our approach to each game entirely to our opponents and not face the limited options that hampered our season last year. Ideally, to implement the two formations we will need to bring in that marquee winger, as well as a back-up striker (speculation on Shane Long seems to be rife tonight). These two players would be all we would need for in Midfield and Attack as our plethora of central midfield talent, along with Maxi Rodrigues and Dirk Kuyt, can cover all our needs.