Fabio Borini: Early Scouting Report on Liverpool's Summer Signing
The once-capped Italy forward scored nine goals in Serie A last season for his old club and was expected to aid the Reds in improving their goal-shy attacking line, as well as compensating for the loss of several experienced forwards such as Craig Bellamy and Dirk Kuyt who departed from Liverpool in the summer.
Borini has now played in 10 competitive games for the Reds before suffering an injury last weekend against Manchester United—so it seems an opportune moment to take a look and reflect on his early-season form for Liverpool.
Here's a complete report on Liverpool's No. 29.
Coming into the club, there was a certain amount of expectation on Fabio Borini which those words of Brendan Rodgers, his new manager, placed upon him (via liverpoolfc.tv):
He's technically strong, he's a good finisher with both feet, he can play central or on the sides in a 4-3-3 up front, he's quick, and he's tactically very good.
As promised, Borini has figured in all three forward positions for Liverpool within his first 10 matches, starting the league campaign on the left side, switching to the right and then most recently getting a couple of games at centre-forward.
Such positional changes never make life easy for a forward who is expected to be a scorer more than a creator of goals.
Even so, he has displayed good appreciation for the role with trying to help implement the pressing high up the field that Brendan Rodgers wants to see, combining short passes with the wide defenders and helping to link play up continuously.
Borini has completed 77 percent of his passes this term in the league and has created three chance for his teammates.
This is arguably the biggest area in which Borini is showing his quality at present.
His runs off the ball are very good indeed. Over time, fans will come to recognise that in the way Rodgers is playing the game, the movement of the wide forwards in particular will be absolutely key in helping Liverpool create the scoring chances they need to win the games.
With a non-out-and-out striker like Luis Suarez playing centre-forward who relies on coming deep to get involved in the play and looks to get on the ball outside the area as much as inside it, a vital factor is the penetration offered by the other three or four attacking players in any one move—especially the wide forwards in the 4-3-3.
Borini is excellent at moving infield off the left flank and taking up dangerous positions in the area behind the centre-forward. Often these runs will not be tracked, which give midfielders the chance to pass the ball into the area and either create for Borini or in turn let him create a shooting opportunity for someone else.
Playing centrally he shows the same ambition to work the channels well and occupy spaces between the centre-backs. On the right side in his brief appearances there, Borini has shown more inclination to keep the width of the team, which is likely tactically instructed and would be in keeping with Brendan Rodgers' previous teams of having one inside forward and one wider one.
Contribution to the Team
Soon after signing Borini, Rodgers said (via liverpoolfc.com):
He's a big talent, 21 years of age, he scores goals, and his passion, focus and concentration is a very important part of his game - and a big part of what you want from a player.
Borini has shown flashes of his ability on the ball, but his teamwork is certainly in no doubt. The levels of concentration from forwards are not always entirely in tune with the rest of the team, especially when the ball is lost, but Borini is utterly exempt from that type of criticism.
Several times when playing out wide and seeing a midfielder break through to the forward line, before losing the ball, Borini has been the one to slot back into position in midfield, even centrally, to hold up play and force the opposition backward even without resorting to have to make a tackle.
A lot of this off the ball work, especially when the Reds aren't in possession, might go unnoticed but Borini is a hard worker and a conscientious player.
His understanding of what Rodgers wants from his side is obviously helping early on, but he does also need to help the likes of Suarez press higher up the pitch.
On the ball, he has helped to create several chances. His run across the defence for Jonjo Shelvey's goal against Young Boys was just one such example that did get noticed, but several other times he has performed similar actions to leave space for his teammates.
Borini had a great chance to link up for an early goal against Manchester United with another fine run, but on that occasion his technique let him down.
Shooting and Goals
Look at it any way you want but the bare facts are that Fabio Borini has one goal in 10 games for Liverpool.
This is clearly the area he needs to improve in the most.
Borini was brought in really as a replacement for Dirk Kuyt, so the Reds should be looking for around a dozen goals from the Italian this season. He is certainly capable of doing so; his movement alone will guarantee him a certain number of good chances this season and he arguably should be on at least three goals by now.
A great chance against Sunderland and not-quite-enough contact on Seb Coates' header against Young Boys both should have added to his tally of strikes so far.
Again, it should not be underestimated how much more difficult it can be for goal-scoring players to get into a run of form when they are switching positions—as well as the fact he has rarely completed 90 league minutes for the Reds.
So far Borini has played 337 of the 450 league minutes for his club after being substituted off in four of the five league games.
Borini has taken seven shots in his five league games, two of which have been on target, though he is yet to find the net in league play. His record of taking a shot every 48 minutes this season is second only to Luis Suarez from players who have started at least once this term in the Premier League.
Key Positives and Areas to Improve
The big positives for Borini so far are certainly his work rate and tactical application in games. He knows which positions to take up, he has "taken one for the team" in terms of switching position so often to accommodate others, and he has shown excellent movement to date.
On the other side of the argument, his shooting and all-round technical level has not been of a high enough quality.
Movement is great, but there needs to be an end product to take advantage of the good positions generated and, whether due to a lack of sharpness or confidence or merely focusing ahead of the immediate problem of controlling the ball, Borini has let himself down too often early on.
Being substituted in four out of five games is a reason why he hasn't had more chances to score—but it is also indicative, until last weekend's injury, of him being the poorest performing player in the final third.
It is likely that if Liverpool had a greater depth of players at their disposal for the front three, Borini would have been removed from the starting 11 for a few games to allow him to work hard at his game from the sidelines, perhaps coming on to aid the search for goals and wins later on in matches.
Joe Cole's injury, Stewart Downing's indifferent form and a general lack of other options, however, make this improbable for now.
Borini is likely to miss at least one league game because of his ankle knock now, but when he returns Liverpool will be looking to him to provide further ammunition than he has done in front of goal until now.
But he has definitely shown enough signs to suggest he can provide the 10-12 goals per season that will be required from the wide forwards and that he can continue to improve in the future.
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