Liverpool have transitioned from possessing one of the strongest first teams but the weakest squad of any of the top teams to possessing a massive squad with 9 senior central midfielders. In getting the best out of this large squad Dalglish may do the impossible. No, not win the League but be a Liverpool manager who successfully rotates without being attacked by the press.
As it's the summer we've got some time to wonder how this is all going to work. How will he fit Steven Gerrard back into the team? What will happen to Liverpool's best player, Raul Meireles? Does anybody remember Joe Cole?
With the purchase of Charlie Adam, a player who can sit deep and spray passes forward, Liverpool have a player who could come close to finally replacing Xabi Alonso. Whilst Adam's range of passing isn't as good as Alonso's, a regista will help give Liverpool shape in a way that the meandering Steve Gerrard can't. With the development of Lucas into an effective blocking player, Liverpool finally have 2 out of the 3 of the midfield triangle which was successful under Benitez. A three of Alonso, Mascherano and Gerrard was dynamic, possessing a play maker, a destroyer and a goal threat. The question is can Steven Gerrard play the role he did 3 seasons ago? I would argue he can't, his days as Captain Fantastic are over and his contribution to Liverpool will have to come in a different role. He doesn't have the explosive presence or ability to do it single handedly that he once did. If it won't be Gerrard, then either Meireles could make sense in this position if Liverpool buy a left winger. Quick, good passing in the final third and an ability to score spectacular goals Meireles could be the replacement for the Gerrard of 2008-2009.
Dalglish may do the impossible. No, not win the League but be a Liverpool manager who successfully rotates without being attacked by the press.
Henderson doesn't make the cut but he could sub in for any of the three players utilising his versatility. If Dalglish does decide to play a 4-3-3 it will be fascinating for Henderson's long term development as a player to see which position he competes for.
A 4-4-2 with Carroll and Suarez up top would probably feature Meireles on the wing. His unique ability amongst Liverpool players to cross a ball means that his distribution will most likely come from the left wing if Liverpool don't buy a winger. If they don't play 4-3-3 with its focus on short passing then the crossing ability of Meireles will be critical to getting the best out of Carroll. Kuyt will take the other wing leaving the two central positions open. Kuyt's willingness and ability to track back means that they don't need to play two defensively minded players. Gerrard's dynamism could be utilised in big games here as he could push on centrally with Kuyt and Suarez flanking him. If so then Henderson and Lucas have the energy and passing ability to distribute the ball.
This formation would also suit playing against the other 'big teams' where the ability to compact the midfield is critical when you don't have the ball. It could also be favoured away from home where the ability to bulk up the midfield could be critical. A midfield of Gerrard, Henderson, Lucas and Adam won't be pushed around and would have the physicality to deal with teams like Chelsea and Stoke.
Gerrard and Tactical Flexibility
Gerrard's need to have the team formed around him was fine when Liverpool had the players in Alonso and Mascherano who had the talent and patience to get the best out of him. I'm not sure if it's the best use of Henderson's potential and Adam's left foot to sacrifice their potential contributions to support Gerrard. Gerrard will have to model his later career on players like Giggs who have evolved and adapted to fit the team. Gerrard will be utilised for the big games as his talents are still there and he can still have a major role to play for Liverpool but he can't play every game.
A midfield of Gerrard, Henderson, Lucas and Adam won't be pushed around and would have the physicality to deal with teams like Chelsea and Stoke.
Nor should he want to for Liverpool's title chances. Dalglish now has some of the flexibility that Ferguson has created at Manchester Utd. With such as array of players teams will not know what team Liverpool will put out against them. Moreover players like Henderson and Meireles can play in multiple positions in the midfield creating more tactical flexibility and options for home and away matches.
What this means for the likes of Joe Cole, Milan Jonanovic and Alberto Aquilani who knows. Both Cole and Aquilani would like to play in the trequartista role but there will be substantial competition for that place with Suarez also looking to fill in there behind Carroll. Aquilani is the more promising player for Liverpool. He has Italy caps as well as being a key man for both Roma and Juventus. At 27 he's got a good few years left in him and with the right coach could come good for Liverpool if he remains fit. With the purchase of Adam and the development of Lucas he won't be expected to play deep in a role he's unsuited for. He was never the player to replace Alonso in the deep lying role and now that he doesn't have to we might finally see the best of him. At Juventus he regularly completed a passing accuracy rate of above 80%. Any replication of this form will be highly effective in getting the best out of Suarez and Carroll, whilst reforming the short passing game which Dalglish wants to create.
Both Cole and Aquilani would like to play in the trequartista role but there will be substantial competition for that place with Suarez also looking to fill in there behind Carroll.
Liverpool now have considerable squad depth in midfield which gives them the ability to properly rotate and the enjoy some tactical flexibility. These are aspects which successful teams, Barcelona aside, have all found critical in the pursuit of success. The roster of new players helps solve some issues whilst creating others. It will up to Dalglish to get the best out of his squad, giving them all playing time and creating formations and scenarios where they can all contribute. Do this right and the endless Scouse optimism about 'it's our year' might be that little bit more justified.
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