“[Lambert]’s one of the most accomplished footballers I’ve seen… Look at his touch, look at the level of his goals, the different types of goals he has scored over his career, and he’s a specialist on penalties as well. I think he is a terrific footballer and any team he plays against, he’s always a handful.” – Brendan Rodgers
It’s official. Liverpool FC have signed Rickie Lambert, the 32-year old striker who just happens to be a boyhood Liverpool fan. His story makes for a wonderful read on how a young player followed his dreams and, at this stage of his life, has finally realized his childhood dream.
But the human-interest story is not the reason why Brendan Rodgers signed the Englishman for a reported £4m plus add-ons (whatever those might be). Rickie Lambert is actually a brilliant signing for the club, despite his age. As Liverpool re-enter the arena of Champions League football in the coming season, it is important they have a deep squad to cope with the increased number of games. It is also important to have different types of players in each position, so that Rodgers can better adapt his tactics for different games.
A Different Breed of Striker
Simply branding Rickie Lambert as a good ‘Plan B’ as he is stronger in the air than Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge is to do a great injustice to the talents of the man. Far from being ‘another Andy Carroll’, he’s an intelligent forward who can be a great focal point for Liverpool’s attack.
It is a telling statistic that, despite that fact that Lambert played as the front-man while Jay Rodriguez played as an attacking midfielder (usually on the left) for Southampton, Rodriguez has a higher Shots per Goal average (3.1 to Rickie’s 2.8), while Lambert has a higher number of average Key Passes per Game (1.5 to Rodriguez’s 0.6). This is the exact opposite of what one would expect; for e.g. Daniel Sturridge has a higher Shots per Goal average (3.4) than Philippe Coutinho (2.8) and Raheem Sterling (1.4), while they in turn have higher Key Passes per Game ratios (2 and 1.6, respectively) than Daniel (1).
The reason for this is Lambert’s style of play. He is a forward who flourishes when played alongside attacking midfielders who are willing to make runs into the box. What sets him apart from most Number 9s is his intelligence in and around the 18-yard box. Lambert has a knack for not only scoring goals, but also knowing when to draw away defenders and setting up one of his teammates. At Southampton, this was inevitably either Rodriguez or Adam Lallana.
Henderson and Sterling Could Reap The Benefits
He is most effective when he has attacking midfielders making runs into the box. Looking at the Liverpool team-sheet, which could look totally different by the time the 2014-15 season starts, it would that Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling’s goal-scoring statistics could get a boost every time they start a game alongside Lambert. Sterling frequently makes attacking forward runs when played on the left, much like Rodriguez. And Henderson is always happy to charge into the box if he feels he could be served up a knock-down. With Lambert acting as the forward focal point, both these players would get decent service if they can strike up the right frequency with Rickie.
Rotating Key Players
Here’s a hypothetical scenario: say Liverpool have a cup match against a Championship team or a League One side in mid-week, and Brendan Rodgers wants to rest some key players such as Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez. This is a very tricky situation to tackle, as the absence of those two players means Liverpool are suddenly deprived of (a) the team’s best set-piece takers, (b) the most experienced player in the side, and (c) a prolific goal-scorer.
Enter, Rickie Lambert. He has brilliant set-piece abilities, particularly taking direct free-kicks and penalties. And he is a veritable veteran of the game, who can be a calming figure amongst Liverpool’s young squad.
Which leaves the matter of off-setting Suarez’s goal-scoring threat. Now, Lambert can in no way act as a direct substitute, as he is not nearly as accomplished in the art of creating moments of magic around the goal as Suarez. But he can, as discussed earlier, increase the productivity of the midfield. While Lambert may be less likely to score goals than Suarez, this can be offset by his ability to set-up goals for midfielders.
While Lambert is a smart purchase, he is not without flaws.
Weakness: Not As Efficient At Pressing
A big part of Liverpool’s style of play under Brendan Rodgers has been their approach of pressing the opposition high up the pitch. As soon as Liverpool lose the ball every player, including the forwards, have to press the opposition players and attempt to win back the ball quickly. Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling are two examples of attacking players who do an excellent job of this.
Sadly, Lambert does not have that as part of his game. Not that he is lazy or unwilling to work, he is simply not as good at dispossessing opponents. Despite playing for a team that also has a similar philosophy regarding pressing, Lambert’s average Tackles per Game ratio is a poor 0.3. Compare this to Suarez’s 1.1, Sterling’s 1.3, Lallana’s 1.5 and Rodriguez’s 1.4.
Weakness: Not Nearly As Accomplished A Dribbler As SAS
Liverpool fans have been spoilt by having 2 forwards who can create goals out of nothing. Both Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge have an uncanny ability to create and score goals out of thin air, mostly thanks to their fantastic dribbling skills and finishing. Lambert may be able to match their finishing abilities on a good day, but there is a massive gulf between their dribbling abilities. Lambert is not a player that one should expect to collect the ball deep and dribble past defenders to score. With a mere 0.2 successful dribbles per game, he is a far poorer dribbler than not only Southampton’s midfielders Lallana (1.8), Rodriguez (1.2), Steven Davis (0.7) and Morgan Schneiderlin (0.6), but also full-backs Luke Shaw (1.6) and Nathaniel Clyne (0.8). For further comparison, Luis Suarez averaged 2.8 successful dribbles per game, while Daniel Sturridge managed 1.3.
Rickie Lambert’s weaknesses should not distract one from the fact that this is an excellent move for Liverpool FC. An experienced player who has proven himself at the highest levels and who will be willing to play second (third, rather) fiddle to Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge. A great option for rotating the team, and a brilliant Plan B that is so much more than just an aerial threat.
Liverpool fans can rejoice at a smart piece of business by Brendan Rodgers, that has given a lifelong fan the opportunity to don the colors and crest he so dearly loves.
“When I grew up there was only one club I loved. I can honestly say now I have two clubs which will always be in my heart and that is thanks to the Saints fans… Southampton have allowed me to realise a lifelong ambition by joining Liverpool FC and taking my family home.” – Rickie Lambert