Lack of options in the defensive midfielder role usually fulfilled by Lucas Leiva has been a major problem area in the past; here’s a look at how Rodgers can address the problem this time around
An innocuous tackle by Lucas Leiva on Juan Mata during the Carling Cup quarterfinals in 2011 seemed to trigger a chain of events that ultimately resulted in Kenny Dalglish losing his job. While Liverpool continued to march on in tournament play, their lack of cover for the Brazilian proved to be a decisive blow in the League. Jay Spearing didn’t protect the defence well enough; and the Reds were exposed by teams that defended deep and countered at pace with the help of brute strength. Problems continued this past season as Lucas suffered a thigh problem. Joe Allen’s super start at LFC papered over the cracks for a while, but an alarming drop in form (due to a hidden shoulder injury) coupled with Lucas yet to return to his imperious best resulted in history repeating itself this season. Ask those present when Villa and West Brom were entertained at Anfield.
To their credit, Liverpool have been quick to act in the yet-to-open transfer window; signing Spaniards Luis Alberto, Iago Aspas, Belgian international goalkeeper Simon Mignolet and defensive cover Kolo Toure. The lack of an attacking threat of last season will likely be replaced by a wealth of options to choose from for attacking positions. However, apart from the small matter of replacing Jamie Carragher on a long-term basis; the most pressing issue in Anfield circles is the lack of cover at the heart of Liverpool’s midfield. There is an urgent need for an alternative – strong in the tackle, with an ability to recycle possession; one who can double up as an aerial threat on set pieces when there is a need for extra bodies in the box, and even help break down physical units like Stoke and West Ham.
Victor Wanyama or Luiz Gustavo
Mohamed Diame was said to have been on his way to Anfield at the end of the 2011-12 season, but King Kenny’s sacking led to the deal falling through. The Senegalese has been impressive at Upton Park thereafter. Victor Wanyama is another such player touted to make the switch to Anfield, and not without reason. The Kenyan stood out in an impressive Celtic squad; scoring in a home victory over Barca. Standing at 6ft 2in, he has sound positional awareness; and (in Brendan-speak) possesses “man strength” required to hold off opponents. However, although defensive midfielders are always at risk of blotting their disciplinary record on the field, the Celtic man’s 15 yellow cards last season makes investing millions on him a bit of a gamble. Liverpool wouldn’t be the only interested party, though, should they decide to make a move.
Another possible alternative from Brendan Rodgers might be Bayern Munich’s Luiz Gustavo. The Brazilian is not exactly first choice at the Allianz Arena and may struggle to get games this coming season; given Pep Guardiola’s apparent dislike towards the double pivot. He will be looking to consolidate his newly acquired place in the Selecao’s starting lineup and might decide that leaving Bayern is in his interests. Settling in would not be an issue as he wouldn’t be the only Portuguese speaker in the squad. He has the physical presence that will help control the heart of Liverpool’s midfield; and might be available for lower price; in a manner similar to Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho.
Is the answer closer to home?
A heart-warming upturn in form from Jordan Henderson over the turn of the year has ensured his place in the good books of the manager for a while. The former Sunderland man is not the man with most deft of touch required to play in attacking positions. However, he makes for up for it with terrier-like running at opponents. He may still not have convinced all of his ability; his strength, fitness and dynamism (when at his best) makes him a possible alternative (or partner) for Lucas in the future. More importantly, he has never missed a game due to injury since joining the Reds. He might just be used in the similar role to what Gerrard currently plays.
Crazy as it sounds, Jonjo Shelvey might also be a possible option for Brendan Rodgers. A tendency to point fingers at Sir Alex Ferguson may not be one of his strong suits. He is no weakling in the tackle, but can be a tad over-exuberant and slide in with both feet a la a young Steven Gerrard. His finishing lets him down; and he tends to go missing in games not going well for him. New arrivals at Anfield have brought in more competition for attacking positions. However, when at his best, he is a dynamic player with a passing range in the mould of the captain; and might be willing to play in a different position, as evidenced by him manfully toiling up front at Upton Park in December 2012. Given that Brendan Rodgers was daring enough to experiment with a low-on-confidence Stewart Downing at left back, this might just be a possibility.
Liverpool are also blessed with the option of looking towards their Academy to fill up this position at the heart of the pitch.
UPDATE: Jonjo Shelvey has departed from Liverpool FC to Swansea City on a transfer estimated to be worth £5M.
Conor Coady is born and bred Scouse, and is a fine prospect. He is a capable of playing as a center half, even though he lacks pace, just like a certain Jamie Carragher. He is capable of picking the right passes from a deep-lying position; and his height makes him a threat at set pieces. He is a natural leader and has captained both club and country at age group levels. It remains to be seen what the manager does with him though; as he has outgrown the U21 league. If he does indeed stay at the club, he would prove to be a cost-free solution to this problem.
Brendan Rodgers and the rest of Liverpool’s transfer committee are faced with a big decision during this transfer window. There are a few factors that must be considered in deciding whether to use players currently with the squad (Henderson, Shelvey, Coady) or to delve into the transfer market (Diame, Wanyama, et al). Given that Liverpool have already made four new signings and will need to use the transfer market for a new centre half, the outcome of this problem is anybody’s guess at this time. Liverpool supporters can trust their manager, however, to find a workable solution; one that can fit the system currently being set in place at Anfield.