Liverpool: the midfield problem and the dead wood which just won't go away.
Since the days of Rafa Benitez to the long awaited appointment of King Kenny, Liverpool FC have been continually criticised for having a squad which simply could not compete with the in depth quality of Manchester United and Chelsea. During the 2007/08 season that fans will look back on with both pride and regret, with the 2nd place finish where we came so close, the starting XI could beat anybody on their day; but beyond that XI, the bench simply was too poor to compete, with the likes of El Zhar (who somehow still exists on the LFC wage bill) consistently being brought on in the 68th minute. Rafa's obsession with this manoeuvre still remains unclear. Such a trend has continued despite the starting XI declining almost in proportion. The season just past underlines this pattern, as the reserve forces were made up from players who have struggled on the big stage. Whilst Ferguson could call Berbatov from the bench, and Ancelloti could bring forward whichever of Drogba, Anelka, and Torres he decided not to start with, Kenny only had David N'Gog as feasible backup for his starting forwards. Although Flannagan and Robinson did fantastic jobs standing in for the injured pros, the question must be asked as to why the reserves needed to be called upon, and the answer is simple. The squad simply was not good or broad enough.
It seems to be the general opinion that this year is our year. Last year the pressure was on Joe Cole to be the Kop's saviour, and the year before that the responsibility lay with Aquilani. For the first time, Liverpool Football Club are united in their aims, and the sky truly is the limit. However, although the squad has matured, it is very much stranded in puberty. The squad has grown and still is growing, but with so many positive changes, the figurative build up of acne just is not fading. Whilst the signings of Henderson, Adam, and Downing are spot on (pun intended), many are quick to look over the wage guzzlers that seem to be happy being overpaid to sit on the bench. Thankfully this dead wood is starting to be chopped away with Konchesky moving on, but there are still a multitude of players who cannot compete at the standard expected at Liverpool. Poulsen, Jovanavic, Joe Cole, Degen, and El Zhar: I am talking to you! Paid approximately £300,000 - £400,000 a week between them, they are the players that nobody wants for the salaries they are being paid, and with such salaries. they are equally unmotivated to move on. You may hear promises of commitment to challenge for a place in the team circulated in the press, but when translated into reality, it's easy to perceive that such claims of loyalty are more likely echoes of their agents' puppetry. Every man in the squad must have a part to play, and just as how you won't see the extras in the new Harry Potter film paid the same amount as big Danny Radcliffe or Emma 'the male dilemma' Watson, those who don't contribute to the Liverpool way of life do not belong within it. Common sense.
But just as the bad wood must be ridden of, the squad is in danger also of being overloaded with too much of a good thing. Too much good wood simply leaves a surplus which Liverpool do not need. Many see the sacking of Ancellotti as linked to how he had too many strikers towards the close of the season, which he could not handle. In relation to Liverpool I am of course talking about the incredibly congested central midfield position. Gerrard, Adam, Henderson, Aquilani, Meireles, Lucas, Spearing, Shelvey, and Poulsen. Nine players competing for two positions in the traditional 4-4-2. Even if King Kenny adopted a 4-3-3, there are still 6 central midfielders at any one time who can only look on with a steadily decreasing transfer value. Solution? Spearing and Shelvey must be loaned out to whoever will play them on a regular basis. This has worked in the development of Fergie's veterans (Beckham to Preston for example), and is the only way to guarantee such talent playing time. Next, sell Mereiles and Poulsen. Many may see the view to selling Mereiles as ridiculous given his goal scoring form since Kenny has taken over. But why play a central midfielder in such a competitive position when his strength lies in his attacking movement and volleying ability in the opponents' box? I would far sooner see Adam, Gerrard, Henderson, and Aquilani control the midfield by dominating play on the ball in the middle, and creating the goal scoring chances unseen since Gerrard played with Xabi Alonso under Benitez. Henderson and Adam were both in the top 3 last season for creating goal scoring opportunities, and such Americanised statistical analysis can only bring good things to Anfield. Elsewhere, and Aquilani deserves his chance to impress. With a full season of Italian football under his belt, and with the golden opportunity to impress without the intense pressure of salvaging Liverpool's flagging year from 2009, this may be year for the return of the Italian Job, except this time there is scope for promotion...
With the clearout complete, this can allow in depth home/away squad rotation in that position between Gerrard, Adam, Henderson, Aquilani, and Lucas, more preferably in a 4-3-3, with scope for all in other domestic tournaments. Anyone else envisioning a trimmed, skilled squad with excellence in depth and not in excess? Yeah, me too. But it's a job that really does need doing quickly, and although it's not a matter of the upmost urgency, it should be afforded more consideration that is being granted. Otherwise, we're looking at player inflation of the worst kind, which will have a detrimental effect on both finances and fortune on the pitch. So get on with it Kenny/Commolli!
In Kenny we trust.