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Analyzing the Liverpool Midfield

It’s not even August, and Kenny Dalglish has been busier than the Pitt-Jolies’ au pair brigade when it comes to restocking the barren midfield corps that awaited him last January. Well, it’s perhaps disingenuous to call it barren; more like, not stocked particularly well. Like if a $30 dish at a fine dining establishment boasted signature ingredients like soap, anchovies, a box of Rice-A-Roni, and a plunger. All things you might need, but not at once. And so, without so much as blinking an eye, he’s signed just about every midfielder ever so much as whispered about in the paragraphs of a transfer rumor mill.

It’s quite impressive, really, to see that many players so well suited to the same basic position on the same team, and it reads like the roll call of some magisterial prep-school class. There’s Gerrard, Henderson, Adam, Poulsen, and Rodriguez. There’s Leiva, Meireles, Downing, Cole, and Jovanovic. Kuyt and Shelvey. The Spearing family would be upset if you forgot their son, Jay. Then there’s Larry, Curly, and Moe. Franklin and Bash. Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen. To round it out, Zach Starkey plays drums.

But all joking aside about a 0-10-0 formation (ho ho ho), it’s fast becoming apparent that Mr. Dalglish is the smartest man in the room. Though you can only play four (or five, on particularly grueling Saturday afternoons) at a time, the sheer amount of permutations and combinations might be enough to bamboozle any opponent, for the possibilities are fast approaching endless. If there’s anything to be said for the phrase “horses for courses,” well, there’s not a steeplechase in the land that Liverpool cannot master.

First, a brief overview of the men themselves, and then we’ll delve into their potential deployments.

Steven Gerrard. El Capitan oft-crocked. Leads from the front. Leads team in inspiring late goals and wild arm gestures. Noted Phil Collins apologist.

Charlie Adam. King of eating contests, ping-pong passing prowess, and the putting green. Parlayed a couple of memorable seasons into a cushy job. Can pass it like Xabi Alonso, it says here on my script. Has the fire and guts that made Gerrard good once upon a time.

Jordan Henderson. The sassy one. Signed for big bucks from Sunderland, much hyped due to his price tag and impressive run in the England U21s, and yet, may well need to be the second coming of Xavi to justify the money for some impassioned critics.

Lucas Leiva. Undisputed player of the year in 2010/11, finally proving to the Kop End just why Rafa Benitez insisted on throwing him into the deep end on a weekly basis. A scapegoat come good.

Maxi Rodriguez. Argentine. Plucky. Scored a boatload in the waning weeks of the season, but frequently displays more bluster and sweat than productivity. He’s Dirk Kuyt if the Dutchman didn’t care nearly as much about being Dirk Kuyt and thus took the odd weekend off.

Dirk Kuyt. Why not mention the ferocious everyman? Long since nudged to a wide midfield role to accommodate strikers far more talented than he, his selflessness and industry are coveted as much as the Font of Eternal Youth. He of course one-ups the hallowed fountain by actually being a real thing. Noted lover of free jazz.

Stewart Downing. Seemed to me to be Villa’s most impressive performer last year on the left flank. His career has followed an impressive upward trajectory in the last 2 years since building hype at Middlesbrough.

Christian Poulsen. Blond-haired Scandinavian vortex from which no good soccer can possibly escape. Has a temper, but lacks the talent to use it properly.

Joe Cole. No words; check the brochure.

Jay Spearing. Is he 35, or just a lad in his mid-20s who has aged at high speed? Maybe it’s because it’s taken him an eternity to stake out a spot on the fringe of the first-team squad. Sports the Paul Konchesky-brand red face whenever he jogs and careens around the middle of the pitch. Serviceable.

Jonjo Shelvey. Another hyped youth product. Raised in Charlton, impressive under Dalglish. A tryer. Bald. By choice, I believe. And proud of it.

Milan Jovanovic. Absolutely, unrepentantly unremarkable. Serbian. These two things are unrelated.

Raul Meireles. Impressive. Tagged as the resident “hipster.” Wowed crowds with the odd golazo and plenty of flair as a pass-and-move proponent. Looks like a slapped, stubbly arse, but plays the game the way John Bonham played a floor tom.

Alberto Aquilani. His reputation was ruined before he’d even played a game, thanks to Benitez’ gambit in spending millions and millions on an injured player (something Dalglish would reprise with Andy Carroll, really, but shhh). Nifty and shifty, but a bit fragile for the EPL minefield.

More midfielders than God, John Lennon’s ghost might quip, not even realizing that the gaggle of strikers currently on Manchester City’s books is equally mind-boggling.

So how do all the pieces mesh? All sets are labeled from right to left across the pitch:

Flat 4-5-1: Henderson, Gerrard, Lucas, Meireles, Downing

4-2-3-1: Lucas, Meireles (holding) / Henderson, Gerrard, Downing (advanced)

Diamond Midfield: Lucas / Henderson, Gerrard / Meireles

Robust 4-4-2: Kuyt, Adam, Lucas, Gerrard

4-3-3: Get real, sissy. Use just three of these guys?

Unimportant Cup Game Against Drab, Lower-League Opponent: Kuyt, Adam, Poulsen, Cole

If We Make It To Europe, These Four Can Knock Around Slovan Bratislava: Kuyt, Shelvey, Lucas, Cole

The Joke Is On You 4-4-2: Cole, Poulsen, Aquilani, Jovanovic

The Beatles Cover Band: Gerrard (Lennon), Gerrard (Harrison), Gerrard (McCartney), Rodriguez (Starr)

The Spice Girls: Spearing (Ginger), Gerrard (Sporty), Cole (Baby), Meireles (Scary), Aquilani (Posh)

Softball Team: Shelvey (SS), Meireles (CF), Gerrard (1B), Adam (C), Henderson (RF), Kuyt (LF), Lucas (2B), Spearing (3B), Jovanovic (P)

Eight-oared Crew Team: Meireles and Cole (Stern Pair) Adam, Gerrard, Kuyt, Poulsen (Middle Crew), Aquilani and Jovanovic (Bow Pair), Lucas (Coxswain)

Nativity Scene: Gerrard (Baby Jesus, duh), Adam (Joseph), Lucas (Mary), Kuyt, Rodriguez, Downing (Three Wise Men)

Barbershop Quartet: Aquilani (Lead), Lucas (Tenor), Adam (Bass), Kuyt (Baritone)

Scrabble (assuming no bonus tiles are used): Jonjo Shelvey (scores 35)

In short, just about every possible situation or scenario is covered thanks to his bloated cast of midfield general hopefuls currently on the books. Sure, he might sell or loan a few, but regardless of what happens between now and August 31, you can bet that Liverpool’s midfield conundrum, one that’s seemingly plagued the club since both Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano defected to Spain, appears to be solved.

James Tyler spends his free time editing Unprofessional Foul and serving as a freelance soccer researcher extraordinaire. His childhood dream was to take a penalty against Lev Yashin, but nowadays, he’d settle for a pint with Steve McManaman.

At least in my mind he is, because really, Kuyt deserves more than simply endless references to his tirelessly high workrate.

For those keeping score: Emmanuel Adebayor, Craig Bellamy, Roque Santa Cruz, Carlos Tevez, Edin Dzeko, Mario Balotelli, and now Sergio Aguero.

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Analyzing the Liverpool Midfield

by James Tyler · July 31, 2011

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