Liverpool’s midfield – Is it really a problem?Posted: October 1, 2013
The key emotion I’ve felt while watching Liverpool over the past few weeks is frustration. Since the Premier League resumed following the international break there has been a bit of a wobble in the form of a side that was, until last weekend following a 1-0 home defeat to Southampton, undefeated and on top of the league. That result was sandwiched between a 2-2 draw away at Swansea and a 1-0 defeat to Manchester United in the League Cup Third Round.
I wouldn’t say emergency sirens are ringing though, as the team are still performing well above expectations. I really can’t complain too much, especially considering this time last year The Reds in 14th place and already 11 points behind the then leaders, Chelsea.
However, there is still room to be slightly concerned about the performance of the side recently, especially in the midfield.
In the last three league games – the draw at the Liberty Stadium, the loss to Southampton and the victory against a newly freed from the wrath of Di Canio, Sunderland – it seemed like Liverpool struggled to deal with the pressure put upon them by the opposition’s midfield.
One suggestion to the problem is that the side are missing the craft and creativity of Phillipe Coutinho, who is out with a shoulder injury. I am reluctant to agree as I feel Liverpool weren’t exactly bossing it with him in the central position against Swansea.
In my opinion, the decision to place Jordan Henderson on the right, whether it be RM in the 4-2-3-1 favoured until recently, or RWB in the 3-4-1-2 being toyed with in the past week or so, has had an effect on the side.
It’s not that I am criticising Brendan Rodgers for this, not at all. The injury of Glen Johnson has left him short of a player perfect for the RWB position – Henderson is the only other person I see with the engine to fit into this challenging role, but that means we miss out on that same quality in the middle.
At the minute, it is as if the team is two units, the defence and the attack, with the wingbacks bombing up and down to attempt to link them up, but it really is not enough in this complex formation favoured by Serie A giants Juventus and Inter Milan.
If the opposition get the ball away from the attackers, it is very likely they will get in the areas surrounding the Liverpool box, such is the space left in the middle, especially when you take into account that either Gerrard or Lucas has gone forward to attempt to link up play.
Of course, a way to solve the problem of the space in the midfield in this case is to have your defensive line coming high up the field, even as high as the halfway line to compact the team and help to kettle the pressure, which was seen quite evidently in Liverpool’s season opener against Stoke, until half time at least.
This opens the possibility of a counter attack but in 3 of Mamadou Sakho, Kolo Toure, Daniel Agger, and a revitalised Martin Skrtel, it’s not as if they aren’t mobile enough to get back.
Back to Henderson though. Towards the end of last season it was obvious when he wasn’t playing, Liverpool missed the pressure he put upon the opposition defenders and midfield, as well as being someone who could link up play and chip in with a goal or two, something that has been lacked terribly of late, and I felt much more comfortable towards the end of the Sunderland game when he was moved to the middle and the central trio of Henderson, Gerrard and Lucas lined up along our back three.
It was also a credit to him that after playing at RWB all game, when Liverpool countered towards the end of the game for their third, he was also breaking a neck to get into the box along with goalscorers Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suárez.
Should the manager persist with the 3-4-1-2 formation, then I strongly feel that Henderson should be played in the middle, which makes the recovery of Johnson essential. With Lucas suspended for our home game against Crystal Palace, Rodgers faces an interesting conundrum on who and how to line up this weekend.