Maxi Rodriguez joined Liverpool on a free transfer from Atlético Madrid in January of 2010. Since that time he has featured prominently in a Liverpool side that has failed to meet expectation and dropped out of the top 4 in England, missing the Champions League qualification spots and never threatening a title challenge.
The personal highlight for Maxi in this time almost certainly has to be three match run that brought Liverpool’s 2010/11 campaign to a close. In three games against Birmingham, Newcastle and Fulham Maxi scored 3 goals twice and added another in the middle for good measure. The 7 goals represented more than his total in the rest of his time with LFC (in 18 months and 45 matches he’s scored 11 goals) and rescued an otherwise dire season stat line. This author has covered Maxi’s value from a fantasy perspective in this article but certainly King Kenny doesn’t care how and when Maxi gets the goals, just that he gets them. However, the nature and volume of these goals (his tally of ten was good enough for joint 17th in the EPL tied with Lampard, Gyan and Nasri among others) may lend itself to overvaluing the goals he scored. This is not an article about the proper valuation of goals in general – but specifically about the return that can be expected from Maxi going into next season. From what we can see, Liverpool can not expect similar returns and would be better off decreasing his playing time substantially.
Maxi is an attacking midfielder. Can we all agree on that? It is his job to take the ball on the left or right wing (or less frequently in the center of the pitch) and advance it in such as way as he is creating chances, contributing assists and scoring goals. It is arguable that he does none of these things very well. Using Maxi’s full season with LFC there are three sets of numbers that will be examined here. First, we’ll look at his passing as compared to the rest of the team, the frequency with which he gives away possessionthen and his creation of chances from crosses, open play and set pieces.
Liverpool played 3,529′ as a team. Where Maxi played 2,043′ and Liverpool typically deploys 4 at the back with the other 6 outfield players being rotated based on the tactics of the match we can calculate, discounting dismissal’s and injury time off the pitch, Liverpool had 21,174′ to be shared among these 6 outfield players of which Maxi received 9.6% of those minutes. Unfortunately for Liverpool in those minutes he made fewer forward passes, more backwards passes and created fewer chances than any other Liverpool midfielder who played at least 1,710′ (19 full 90′ matches).
The following charts illustrate exactly why Maxi did not fit into the Liverpool tactics the way that he needed to as an attacking midfield player. As is obvious from these numbers Liverpool preferred to attack with forward passes, and often through the right side of the field. They held possession well as a midfield and endeavored to make successful passes in the attacking half and final third of the pitch. As we can also see from Maxi’s numbers, his game did not mesh with the tactics of Liverpool as a whole. If it was Rafa/Roy/Kenny’s intent to deploy him in this fashion, he did an admirable job of following orders, but from the statistics here it looks like Maxi was simply reading from a different sheet. The breakdowns for final 1/3 and attacking 1/2 are completed passes/attempted passes.
Maxi and Joe Cole, two players who find themselves on the fringe heading into this season, played very similarly. Both passed backwards over 30% of the time, nearly twice as frequently as the rest of the LFC midfield. Addtionally they were similarly frugal in passes in the attacking 1/3. When looking at all of Liverpool’s open play passes Maxi himself accounted for 4% of all forward passes, 11% of all backwards passes, 9% of passed left, and finally 5% of passes right. He and Cole fit the same mold, and unfortunately that type of player does not mesh well with Liverpool’s direct tactics. In fact, of those midfielders already at Anfield, Jay Spearing has best fit the mold of an attacking midfielder distributing more than 1/2 of his passes forwards.
Maxi’s crossing numbers are poor. He attempted just 19 crosses and was successful with just 2. Those two were both from corner’s (4 of his 19 crosses were corners) which means he did not have a single successful cross in open play for the entire season. We have mentioned above that he did not have a single assist this season and his lack of quality crosses, combined with his few thru balls and general disposition to find the indirect route to goal made him a square peg in Liverpool’s all round hole attack. He did create 33 chances in open play, similar to Gerrard’s 32 and Meireles’ 32, but Gerrard created an additional 16 from set plays while Raul had 29. Those 33 chances are fewer than Kuyt (49) as well. In fact, even defensive midfielder Lucas had 20 chances in open play and a further 2 from set pieces.
With the additions of Stewey and Charlie, one imagines that Maxi is no longer going to receive many minutes in league play. This will undoubtedly assist the Liverpool offense, particularly as both Downing and Adam are adept at creating chances as several other authors on this site have written about at length. Maxi’s value at holding the ball and providing possession are his strong suits and late substitutions where LFC are holding a lead may prove a more valuable usage of those skills. While Maxi may have been a free transfer, and his 7 goals over those three matches late in the season provide a memorable finish to an unremarkable – if not downright poor – season at Anfield, Reds fans should hope it is also their last memory of Maxi starting matches for them.