Marking Liverpool’s first pre-season clash with a goal after just three minutes, Lazar Markovic proved his worth after a tough 2014/15, writes Jack Lusby.
Liverpool’s 4-0 victory over the True Thai All Stars on Tuesday signalled a positive start to a busy pre-season for Brendan Rodgers’ side, and the manager will have learned a lot about his new-look squad.
Jordan Henderson received much of the plaudits on his first outing as the Reds’ full-time captain after an astonishing rabona assist for Adam Lallana‘s goal.
Meanwhile, former Lille striker Divock Origi impressed making his first appearance in Liverpool red, after spending last season on loan in Ligue 1.
Deploying a different lineup in each half, Rodgers gave an indication of his tactical outlook for the 2015/16 season, with his second-half XI considerably stronger than the first.
But a clutch of performances before the break will have piqued his interest.
Nothing is cut and dried in pre-season, and the performance of Lazar Markovic could have proved a point to Rodgers in Bangkok.
In the first half, Rodgers set up his troops in a 4-4-2 diamond formation—one which many Liverpool supporters were clamouring for during last season’s mess of tactical deviation—and it saw Markovic utilised in a No. 10 role.
The Serbian lined up at the tip of the diamond behind forward pair Rickie Lambert and Danny Ings, with Joao Carlos Teixeira and Jordan Rossiter serving as the shuttling flank midfielders.
Lucas Leiva operated as anchorman in this system, while a prowling Joe Gomez added extra width from right-back.
Effectively given the freedom to probe the attacking areas, Markovic excelled.
With Ings harrying the All Stars defenders and Lambert drifting off into wide areas—the 33-year-old was the most ill-fitting of Liverpool players within this system, and there is no surprise that he is set to be offloaded this summer—Markovic forged into space between the centre-backs.
His diagonal runs were complemented by the intricate playmaking of Teixeira, and it took just three minutes for the pair to combine for Markovic’s goal.
A threaded pass through the All Stars defence allowed Markovic to round the goalkeeper and slot home—this set the tone for his impressive 45-minute display.
However, it wasn’t just in the attacking sector that he impressed. Markovic dropped back to both aid build-up play and contribute defensively—aspects of his game that were leaned on heavily in an unnatural role last season.
That Markovic is in a position where he must prove his worth this summer is largely owing to his misuse in 2014/15
When at Benfica, prior to his £20 million move to Merseyside, Markovic was Jorge Jesus’ key attacker. He was primarily utilised as a left or right winger, with a handful of appearances just behind the centre-forward.
Jesus described him as “a hugely talented player,” continuing: “With the ball at his feet, he’s not easy to stop.”
Compatriot Nemanja Matic, formerly of Benfica and now at Chelsea, also attested: “He could be one of Europe’s best players in his position.”
The key points there: Markovic excels with the ball at his feet and when deployed in his position.
Unfortunately, he spent much of last season in a wing-back role, forced to sit back and defend rather than drive forward in possession.
When he was able to attack freely, such as in his goalscoring display in January’s 1-0 win over Sunderland, he proved devastating—but these forays became less and less frequent, and Markovic faded into a role as Rodgers’ sacrificial lamb.
Hopefully, this pre-season will change the manager’s stance.
“Lazar Markovic was playing in a position in the first half just behind the front two and he broke forward very well and it was an excellent finish,” Rodgers said after the game. “So I was pleased.”
He later added: “[His] first year [was] adapting as a really young player, 20-21 years of age, to a big club.
“Hopefully, this second year he can really push on.”
Rodgers’ noting that Markovic performed well in this advanced attacking position, and a hint towards a bright future on Merseyside for the 21-year-old, should be encouraging for a player who will have been frustrated after a muted first season in the Premier League.
Alongside Ings, Origi, Teixeira and Jordon Ibe, Markovic represents part of a strong, youthful attacking contingent that will complement Lallana and Brazilian pair Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho.
Add to this group a returning Daniel Sturridge and a potential new signing at centre-forward, and Liverpool have a fearsome forward line set for 2015/16.
That Markovic’s performance came on the eve of Raheem Sterling’s £49 million move to Manchester City should underline the importance of his display further.
Sterling’s absence will be felt significantly, but Markovic could be an ideal replacement.
Impressing in a role reminiscent of that of Sterling, Markovic’s goalscoring display in Liverpool’s 4-0 win over the Thai All Stars could see him prove his worth as an invaluable attacking option for the campaign ahead.
Build throughout pre-season, and Markovic could play a key role for Rodgers.