After a slow but expected settling-in period following his arrival from Benfica in the summer, Lazar Markovic has shown over the last two months exactly why Liverpool parted with £20million to bring the exciting Serbian to Anfield.
The upturn in the 20-year-old’s displays after a sluggish start to life on Merseyside has seen Markovic become a first choice selection when available over the months of December and January, and the pacey attacker has repaid the faith put in him by building on the glimpses of quality shown at the beginning of his Liverpool career.
Man of the Match: Lazar Markovic.
1 key pass
90% pass accuracy
4 tackles won. pic.twitter.com/PeHpfSNiY2
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 10, 2015
Naturally a forward player, the Serbian international’s rise in performances has strangely come when featuring as a wing-back in Brendan Rodgers’ switched 3-4-2-1 formation, and such has been the level of his impressive displays, a case is building for Markovic to remain in the position he has made his own, despite the role not being his favoured spot.
Markovic’s emergence which saw him become regarded as one of Europe’s top upcoming talents came with the 20-year-old playing as a ‘wide-forward’ with the Portuguese giants using him predominantly on the right of the attack in a 4-3-3 formation.
Lining up mostly in a wide spot where he enjoyed relative success, Markovic’s ability to drift inside to central positions – where his pace and directness running with the ball proved devastating at times – saw him produce some of his best moments as he roamed to find space to operate centrally.
It was featuring heavily from the right-forward position though that saw the Serbian score six goals and claim four assists in 21 starts in all competitions for his previous club, and from that it is possible to see why Rodgers attempted to deploy Markovic on the right of a ‘3’ behind the striker from the beginning of this season when played.
Despite displaying some glimpses on occasions of what he could offer, the former Partizan Belgrade man didn’t enjoy the same influence in the wide position for the Reds to begin with, as he registered no goals or assists, and created less than a chance per game in the league.
Markovic’s and Liverpool’s unspectacular start to the season led to Rodgers trialling a number of formations before settling on the current set-up which has brought about an improvement in both the team and the £20million man, who has come to life slowly but surely in a wing-back position.
Lazar Markovic scores his first Premier League goal for Liverpool with just his second shot on target.
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 10, 2015
It’s in the more defensive role that Markovic has impressed most so far, and since switching position, the Serbian seen an improvement in his production, scoring a goal from either side against Bournemouth and Sunderland respectively, and while still yet to assist, his chances created per game in the Premier League has improved to 1.3.
In the new role where his running from deep with and without the ball provides a real threat, Markovic has embarked on 2.6 dribbles per game, in stark contrast to the 1.2 undertaken in an attacking position.
I know many will call for Markovic to play higher, but i’m loving the runs from deep he’s able to make as a wing back.
— Dan Shepherd (@TheCarteI) January 10, 2015
Lazar has also taken well to his new found defensive responsibility that comes with the role and his defensive contribution combined with the danger he possesses from the deeper wide-role has deservedly seen him force his way into a regular starting place.
The disciplined Serbian – who often is seen tracking back to provide the necessary protection for the centre back behind – has doubled the amount of defensive actions per game, won 57% of his duels, has made 3.1 tackles per game, and all importantly has recorded no defensive errors.
While impressing as a wing-back, Markovic has somewhat stumbled across the position and though he is settling and producing the goods currently, he should remain viewed ultimately as an attacking player, rather than a player with attacking intent like Alberto Moreno.
It’s important to remember that the circumstances over Liverpool’s switch to the new formation came from the Reds’ poor displays and while it is serving a purpose of helping Rodgers’ side find form, it is hard to see the Liverpool boss sticking to the shape long-term.
Rodgers has preferred to operate with a 4-3-3 formation throughout his managerial career, and that is the system that has produced the best from the Markovic and it should still be the long-term plan. Lazar’s productivity from the top line position as a teenager that first bought him to the club’s attention can’t be forgotten or ignored and when the time is right, he must be incorporated into his natural place to elevate his game further again.
Where he plays in that three man attack – whether on the left, centrally, or the right – is still up for debate, and with Liverpool seeking an Alexis Sanchez like figure, it could be the flexible Serbian talent that provides it with his ability to play both centrally and wide, as well as his direct attacking attributes.
Delighted for Markovic, sure he will make a few who were writing him off look very daft… Top player in the making. #LFC.
— Si Steers (@sisteers) January 10, 2015
Since donning the Liverpool red, Lazar Markovic has indisputably operated more productively when deployed deeper than the position he excelled in at Benfica and he has enjoyed greater influence as a wing-back than when playing an attacking right side role.
It therefore makes perfect sense to keep the Serbian where he is for now as he continues to find his feet and progress in the team, allowing for him to develop his attacking game further, under less pressure for when the move back higher up the pitch comes around.