At the beginning of this season, it appeared that a shallow Liverpool side was only truly secure in one area: midfield. The signings of Joe Allen and the now departed Nuri Sahin added depth to an area of the squad already containing the likes of Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva. Certainly on paper, Liverpool’s midfield looked formidable, but the problem all season has seemingly been that no group of players have been on form together.
For example, when Lucas was injured early on in the season, Joe Allen was Liverpool’s best midfielder. He had to effectively play two roles, that of a shield and a recycler, distributing the ball and ensuring Liverpool always won it back quickly all the while covering for Steven Gerrard as the skipper tried to learn his role in a new system. However once fatigue set in his form dipped off. After committing no serious defensive errors in his first group of Liverpool games or during his last season at Swansea, Allen suddenly started making one every two games. Just as Allen started to fade, Gerrard kicked into life. At no point was Liverpool’s midfield harmonizing.
With Allen’s loss of form and Lucas still finding his feet after injury it has recently been the turn of Jordan Henderson to step up to the plate. The former Sunderland player has fit into Brenan Rodgers’ high-pressing system perfectly since getting a run of games, with his willingness to run hard complemented by a calmness in possession. With Jonjo Shelvey also impressing earlier in the season before tailing off Rodgers plethora of options has seemingly turned into a managerial headache to find three in form players to put in the centre of the park.
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* Game vs Wigan started Gerrard-Allen-Suso but at 0-0 Suso was substituted and all three goals scored whilst Henderson on pitch so game attributed to him.
Being that Rodgers always wants his sides to control possession, his Liverpool team have rarely strayed from a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 formation, always including at least three out and out midfielders. Even with Luis Suarez playing more between the lines such as recently against Norwich, control over the centre was not sacrificed.
Looking at the chart above, Rodgers’ midfield conundrums are evident because no trio has started more than seven league games together, while one member of that trio has recently departed.
Examining the data, it appears that Liverpool perform best when playing with an adaptive midfield where each player can do a bit of everything. As previously mentioned, in the past Allen has proven adept at handling both defensive and orthodox midfield duties. Similarly, players like Gerrard and Sahin can be creative or recycle the play. Lucas works in the system because he is comfortable in possession, but Shelvey has been a part of Liverpool’s most disappointing midfielders because his touch and passing sometimes leaves a lot to be desired.
What’s clear is that currently Liverpool’s best starting midfield is Lucas and Gerrard as a double pivot with Henderson slightly more advanced, bringing Joe Allen on to finish teams off with what Rodgers calls “death by football”. While not as distinctive as the traditional creator-runner-destroyer partnership, all three players are comfortable on the ball and capable of winning it back. The trio’s two games started – admittedly a very small sample size – have been thrashings of Norwich and Sunderland and when Lucas works his way back to full match fitness, it appears the Reds will finally have a central midfield where every player is at the top of his game.
All of the stats from this article have been taken from the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.com – Subscribe Now (Includes author privileges!) Check out our new Top Stats feature on the Stats Centre which allows you to compare all players in the league & read about new additions to the stats centre.