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The Purge of Raul Meireles

How important the losses of Raul Meireles [and Alberto Aquilani] actually are to Liverpool Football Club.

Since the arrival of New England Sports Ventures, The Reds have found themselves with funds that were previously absent under the reign of George Gillet and Tom Hicks Sr. This enhanced funding has resulted in Kenny Dalglish and Damien Comolli allowing themselves to ‘spread their wings’. This new-found freedom has resulted in the importation of several new players, with the club also narrowly missing out on several other targets such as Phil Jones and Sylvain Marveux.

The introduction of Charlie Adam and Jordan Henderson upped the number of central midfielders at the club to eight [and a half, if you include Joe Cole]. The likes of Stewart Downing and Sebastian Coates were also brought in, in an attempt to further bolster the squad to compete for domestic honours. This apparent augmentation of central midfielders was seen, by many fans, as an overreaction to the lack of depth that the Liverpool squad has been criticized of since the days of Gerard Houllier. Whilst the club has often maintained reasonable runs of form, it has never been able to sustain such peaks in form in order to challenge for the league title (with the exception of 2008/09). Dalglish seemingly attempted to combat this with the sort of midfield rotation Houllier was able to successfully maintain during the likes of the treble-winning season. And this was recently re-affirmed when Dalglish mentioned that “it is the players off the pitch that win you titles”.

I was dismayed when the incredibly enthusiastic Jim White announced Meireles had submitted a transfer request, as I was of the belief he was to be a key member of the 2011-12 squad. But alas, the beautiful game often hands us unexpectedly harsh twists and turns. Throughout this article, I’ll analyse the impact Meireles’ departure has and will make on LFC.

Versatility, Rotation and Depth                                                                                

Charlie Adam, Alberto Aquilani, Joe Cole, Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson, Lucas Leiva, Raul Meireles, Christian Poulsen and Jay Spearing initially formed Liverpool’s central midfield options. Out of these, five were capable of playing outside of the usual central-midfield roles, and are able to occupy different roles in the midfield, usually out on the wing. Granted, not all of these players were of a required standard, and were deservedly shipped on (ie. Poulsen and Cole); these players will not feature in the analysis.

Winger options are something Liverpool has never had in huge supply, and this versatility of the likes of Charlie Adam, and Raul Meireles, would have added to the immense squad depth Comolli and Dalglish are wishing to create. This squad depth is vital to a reasonable Premier League position and the Liverpool management have done well to recognise this. This conflict against lack of depth has been proven by the acquisition of Stewart Downing for a fee of approximately £20million, strengthening the previously depleted winger stocks at the club.

This versatility results in the number of players who can play wing positions to a reasonable standard, increasing. As well as the incoming transfer of Stewart Downing, Liverpool has found themselves with a number of potential wing options. Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez both provide excellent options out wide with the potential rise of Dani Pacheco (but he’s now out on loan!) which would also play a part, whilst Aurelio and Johnson are also able to appear on the wing if the situation were to arise. The more versatile of the central midfielders also slot in as ‘half’ options – there are a huge number of tactical and formational philosophies Dalglish could use, with such depth, and this provides flexibility that a top four side must have. The loss of Raul Meireles depletes not only the centre-midfield stocks, but also the potential options on the right-side of midfield – a position which lacks more depth than any other.

Interesting Stat:

Every Premier League winner since 2004 has had at least seven premier-league quality midfielders.

The Central Midfield Trio

With the number of first team central midfielders escalating, Kenny Dalglish would have been able to implement a trio in the centre of midfield – be this a 4-5-1, a 4-2-3-1 or the famous Dalglish 3-5-2. Jose Mourinho once commented that a central midfield trio is impossible to penetrate with two central midfielders. Implementing the ‘tiple pivot’ in the centre of the park virtually guarantees domination of possession which has proven extremely important for the likes of World Cup winners Spain and Champions League holders Barcelona.

Playing this triple pivot in midfield necessitates having three different types of midfielders at the club, which Liverpool now have, although with Meireles [and Aquilani] leaving, the chance of implementing a trio of central midfielders on a regular basis, will be difficult. The club had an equal balance of the three types of central midfielder necessary to implement a successful triple pivot – the Destroyer, the Workhorse and the Creator.

The Destroyer role describes essentially a ball-winning midfielder – a role famed by Claude Makelele, which has since been modernised. Lucas generally fulfils this role, and as per with every player, adds his own tinge to the role. Originally portrayed as a very limited destroyer, Lucas has since blossomed into a player who is very capable in terms of possession distribution, allowing another playmaking option. Jay Spearing is the other potential competitor for this role, and with Spearing progressing leaps and bounds over the course of the previous season, he will provide stiff competition for the slot. Conor Coady also provides the youth option, after moving on from his previous role in the centre of defense. Throughout the season we have even seen the likes of Charlie Adam and Steven Gerrard fulfil this role whilst Lucas has been unavailable. Raul Meireles would have provided another option in this role, due to his excellent [and quite frankly vastly underrated] defensive qualities. As shown by the table below comparing Meireles to some of the Premier League’s other prime holding midfielders.

Disproving the myth of Raul Meireles' apparent defensive inablities

Raul Meireles was the man who generally fulfilled the Workhorse role during the 10/11 season. This describes a player who is able to use his natural fitness to complete defensive and offensive work – and much to contrary belief, Meireles is actually an adequate tackler, as proven by the above table. Jordan Henderson is also capable of fulfilling this role – providing depth and competition. With the departure of Raul Meireles, there are now two primary options for this role, in Jordan Henderson and Steven Gerrard. The latter’s injury problems and the former’s lack of experience means it can often be a gap in the side, at times. Although, Charlie Adam is also capable of filling into this role if necessary.

The Creator role essentially describes a primary playmaker that is vital to any attack. As per the Destroyer role, every player adds his own tinge and the excellent capability of potential players in this role means the play will differ depending on who fulfils this role. Alberto Aquilani, Steven Gerrard and Charlie Adam are all very capable in this role with Meireles and Henderson able to adapt to it also. The loss of Aquilani shines through as more prominent in this area, although obviously not as large as the loss of the flexible Meireles. The vast number of playmakers in the squad is almost akin to one of the most successful squad in the club’s history (‘00/’01) when the likes of Murphy, McAllistair, Hamann & Gerrard et al were prominent. With now just Charlie Adam as a proper playmaker in the side, and Gerrard’s ball retention not what it used to be, it may be difficult to control possession.

Treble Winners

The Liverpool squad of 00/01 was brimming with central midfielders, as previously mentioned, and was often ridiculed for this fact, with a number of these players not making a large amount of appearances. The number of potential central options (8) roughly equalled the number in the squad before Aquilani and Meireles were shipped out. This did often lead to the likes of Danny Murphy being played on the wing, but this resulted in an extra creative source which Owen, Fowler and even Heskey thrived upon. This squad went on to win three major cups in a single season – the club’s most successful season to date.

Granted, you could argue that the general ability of those central midfielders in the treble-winning squad was higher, but the likeness of certain players to those in that squad is alarming. Lucas is steadily building himself into a modernised Didi Hamann who is able to aptly defend and is also capable of spraying possession if need be. Steven Gerrard of 11/12 is also a far improved upon version of his 00/01 counterpart, and Charlie Adam is increasingly becoming more and more like Danny Murphy.

The number of central midfielders in the squad meant the likes of Gerrard, Murphy and McAllistair had to be pushed onto the wings, as is likely of Jordan Henderson [and would have been for Raul Meireles] for the 2011-12 season. The comparisons between the midfield units of the two squads had the potential to be huge. This has again been depleted with the loss of Meireles [and Aquilani].


With depth being the major factor which has resulted in the plummeting of the Reds’ league positions for numerous seasons, it seems the departures of Meireles and Aquilani were a kneejerk reaction that we didn’t need. The competition for positions was excellent in terms of the midfield, and this is an area in which a viable comparison can be made between the current first team squad and that of 2001.

The only viable reason as to how one can argue with this opinion is for financial reasons; but judging by transfer acquisition prices throughout the previous six months, I don’t think we should be apprehensive about that. Supposedly, contractual issues were the main reason Meireles submitted his transfer request late on the 1st of September, and this seems to be a glaring error on Damien Commolli’s part.

Unfortunately, Meireles pushing through his transfer to Chelsea will hurt us far more than most realise. We finally had a squad.

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