With Steven Gerrard’s hamstring injury ruling him out for up to six weeks, Jack Lusby looks at three possible solutions for Brendan Rodgers in the absence of the inspirational captain.
The Likely Trio: Allen, Lucas, Henderson
The most likely midfield trio to feature in Gerrard’s absence will be the holy trinity of Liverpool’s previously-maligned central midfielders: Joe Allen, Lucas Leiva and Jordan Henderson. As Gerrard limped off, Rodgers deployed the three against a resurgent West Ham in the final 30 minutes of Saturday’s game.
Whilst initially shaky, as the game progressed Liverpool’s midfield began to regain composure with the trio finding their feet. Against a robust West Ham midfield including the dominant Mohamed Diamé, a good understanding between the three proved paramount as the Reds sailed towards victory.
On paper, the three make a convincing contingent. Each possesses qualities which in theory should form a balanced midfield to cope with the demands of the modern game.
Joe Allen, growing in confidence in recent weeks following his reintroduction to a starting berth, provides the required passing range to accommodate the deep-lying presence that will be missed in the weeks without our captain.
Lucas Leiva, with a squad-best average rate of tackles per game of 4.8 for the season, provides the defensive stability needed to shore up a midfield which Brendan Rodgers will expect to contribute much higher up the pitch than the Brazilian.
Finally, Jordan Henderson is the squad’s lynchpin when it comes to their pressing game. His main attribute being his fitness and unfaltering will to run, his harrying of the opposition deep into their half often leads to mistakes being made and chances being created.
However, question marks can be raised over the level of authority held by the three. As the most experienced, Lucas would be expected to take the reins in this sense, but this is an area which is likely to remain lacking.
The Gamble: Allen, Lucas, Luis Alberto
With Henderson a doubt for the upcoming game at White Hart Lane, Brendan Rodgers could look to put his faith in Spaniard Luis Alberto in the third midfield position alongside Allen and Lucas. The summer acquisition is yet to start in the Premier League, having to content himself with 7 substitute appearances so far.
Naturally, Alberto atones for the lack of creativity in a midfield without Gerrard. His roots in the philosophy of Spanish football, of passes ticking over play and waiting for a key moment to present itself, will lend themselves well to unlocking the tough defences to present themselves in the coming weeks.
As opposed to the previous trio of Allen, Lucas and Henderson, Alberto also provides a more positive, attacking mind-set when it comes to approaching the game. With an eye for goal and a predilection to look for a key through ball, he may provide the attacking threat required.
Furthermore, Alberto offers a margin of unpredictability to Liverpool’s midfield; in this case his lack of game time may prove to be a benefit if he is given the chance.
With little to base their preparation on, opposing managers may find it hard to shackle the graceful Spaniard. However, the relative inexperience of Alberto in the Premier League may be damaging to the young midfielder, especially in the games against higher calibre opposition.
It remains to be seen whether a baptism of fire will propel Alberto into reinvigorating a defensive-minded Liverpool midfield or leave the 21-year-old wanting, either way his inclusion would represent a gamble to Brendan Rodgers.
The Curve Ball Combo: Allen, Agger, Lucas
Whilst reverting to a formation accommodating three centre backs is the more likely situation, Daniel Agger is often suggested as a midfield candidate. Alongside Allen and Lucas, Agger could be chosen to fill the void left by Steven Gerrard in the coming weeks.
Possessing the passing ability and defensive qualities required, and being comfortable in possession, Agger seems to have the attributes required for a midfield role. In this case more likely as the holding role, with Lucas being deployed either alongside or slightly further up the field.
Furthermore, Agger is a more than capable replacement for Gerrard when it comes to his leadership qualities. The vocal presence lifted from his experience as a centre back would be crucial in the organisation of Liverpool’s midfield.
However, whilst Agger’s inclusion should address this issue, a midfield three of Allen, Agger and Lucas would more than likely prove too defensive, with all three players less comfortable in the final third of the pitch.
In turn this would more than likely serve to isolate Rodgers’ attacking players and quite likely stifle the creation of chances in games where they may come few and far between in the first place.
Need for reinforcements
In conclusion, having looked at three reasonable options for the coming weeks it seems to suggest that injury to Gerrard and the possible absence of Jordan Henderson highlights more than ever the dearth of quality in depth in the Liverpool midfield.
Whilst it serves to remain optimistic in the absence of our captain, the coming weeks may prove that reinforcements are required in January.
If Liverpool stick with a midfield three for the upcoming games throughout Gerrard’s absence, who would be your preference?
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