The season may only be a couple of games old, but there’s no doubting that it’s going to be a very interesting one for Liverpool. Kenny Dalglish has now been in-charge for over 7 months and so has a better idea of his team. There have been some fascinating new signings and after their end to last season, there’s a feeling that a challenge to get back into the Champions League positions is on this year.
One of the most interesting – and vital – aspects for them this season is how Andy Carroll performs through the season. After signing for record £35 million in January he suffered a whole host of injuries leading to just two goals before the end of last season, both in the same game against Manchester City. And with the success of Luis Suarez who cost around £12 million less, the pressure on Carroll since arriving has been massive. It has been a problem for Dalglish who favours a quick short passing style and has had to try and find a system to fit Carroll in.
Looking at his summer signings, most assumed that the signing of Stewart Downing would be the signing that with the most intent on getting the best out of Andy Carroll. However, looking at the shape in the opening few games and past success with Carroll and you get the feeling that that is not the case.
Most strikers generally prefer wingers to play the ball square into the box from high up the field. This is simply because the angles work a lot better – strikers get momentum from running onto it, the striker can play with his front to goal rather than with his back to goal if the ball is played from deep. However, Andy Carroll has had huge success when the ball is played diagonally from deep.
This happened a lot at Newcastle. In the league last season, the joint highest assist-goal combination was Joey Barton to Andy Carroll, with five goals coming of this. When you consider that Carroll was only at St James Park for half of last season, you get an idea of how prominent a tactic this was. With Barton’s positioning, he would generally pull deep to the right and play it long for Carroll.
In Kenny Dalglish’s column in the Daily Mail last November, he made this chalkboard highlighting just how it worked:
Stewart Downing, so far in both league games, has been a lot more advanced and central than many thought he would be (see this and click on tactical formation and average positions). Many have made the assumption that he would solve Liverpool’s ‘problem’ – which they have had in the past few years – through lack of wingers. Yet, so far he’s been far more involved with cutting inside and getting involved centrally rather than out wide. In the first game of the season against Sunderland, his proposed combination with Carroll didn’t happen. He made just two passes to Carroll, both from corners. Not once did he find Carroll from open play. In a way, he’s been used as a support striker rather than a winger.
The key to getting the best out of Carroll, therefore, could lie with central midfielder Charlie Adam, and not winger Stewart Downing. The man who took the Premier League by storm in the early parts of last season with Ian Holloway’s Blackpool side was chased by both Liverpool and Tottenham in January to no avail. Eventually, Liverpool won his signature and it’s clear to see Dalglish’s intentions. Adam’s ability to spray the ball around from deep was a key tactic for Blackpool last season.
You saw this against Sunderland on the opening day of the season for Carroll’s disallowed goal. Adam played a high diagonal ball from deep on the left hand side, Carroll knocked it down and fired it into the net and was unfortunate to have it disallowed for a foul. But both, the way that Dalglish acknowledged this tactic in his newspaper column last year and the success Newcastle had with it signals the reason why Adam may have been bought. Considering Gerrard’s obvious long ball ability we may see the same thing from him when he returns in September.
From there also lies the problem of getting the best out of Adam. One of the problems he brings is his limited mobility and can often get caught out defensively. Against Arsenal at the weekend, his defensive weaknesses were shown up when he moved higher up the pitch. It’s possibly why for most of the game he stayed fairly close to Lucas so as not to leave space behind.
This could be a potential problem and that’s why the signing of Henderson is potentially so important. At Blackpool, Adam was given a lot of freedom in midfield to play his passes because he had players like David Vaughan and others who were very energetic and would work very hard, allowing him more freedom in midfield.
In the midfield at Liverpool, the fact that he has Lucas behind him in the holding role obviously helps. He’s taken a lot of criticism in the past but the improvement the Brazilian has had in the past couple of years has been extremely important, especially with the departure of Mascherano.
Then, we come to Henderson. There’s no doubt he’s a good player. His energy levels remain high and his touch is very good and it is clear that Dalglish has signed a talented player. He may well struggle to stay in the team when Gerrard comes back but getting the best out of Adam will get the best out of Carroll and for that to happen, there has to be players around Adam who can cover for him and allow him the space. Aquilani seemed to fit in perfectly in pre-season in Dalglish’s pass and move style but the fact that he’s been let go so easily combined with the fact that Henderson was preferred to him in the first couple of games hinted that Dalglish has a system in mind, based on giving Adam the freedom to play his diagonal passes from deep.
It’s as yet unclear as to what formation Liverpool will play. So far a 4-4-2 has been used with one ‘winger’ – generally, Downing – moving higher, changing it into a lobsided 4-3-3. However, with Adam’s deeper role it may well change into a 4-2-2-2 or even a 4-2-3-1 mainly depending on which players are playing and the way the opposition are playing.
It’s going to be very interesting to see how this develops throughout this season and the early season signs are that Dalglish has a very interesting system in place. Whatever happens, though, Liverpool are going to be one to watch this season.
Written by Jonny Mullins
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