Liverpool

Impressive Arsenal Expose Liverpool's Midfield Weakness

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 02: A dejected Steven Gerrard of Liverpool looks to the big screen after they conceded a second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Liverpool at Emirates Stadium on November 2, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Matt LadsonFeatured ColumnistNovember 2, 2013

In 2008/09, as Liverpool enjoyed their best Premier League finish, the Reds' faithful would sing about having the "best midfield in the world."

Indeed, the trio of Javier Mascherano, Xabi Alonso and Steven Gerrard was certainly worthy of such a label.

That honour now belongs to Arsenal, by some distance.

Liverpool's 2-0 defeat at The Emirates on Saturday evening opens up a number of discussion points, and most will revolve around the midfield area.

It's an area which Arsene Wenger's side are blessed with talent, while some Liverpool supporters have quietly expressed their concerns about theirs for the majority of the new season.

It's not that Liverpool don't have enough central midfielders, it's the balance (or lack of it) that is a big stumbling block.

For all of Liverpool's early season "form", they have not been controlling games as you would expect, or as Brendan Rodgers would desire.

Last week, when The Reds comfortably beat West Brom 4-1, saw the midfield trio of Lucas Leiva, Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson dominate.

However, when tasked with trying to perform in the same manner against the best midfield in the Premier League it was a whole different matter.

 

Home truths—Lucas and Gerrard

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 02:  Lucas Leiva of Liverpool and Santi Cazorla of Arsenal battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Liverpool at Emirates Stadium on November 2, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Laurenc
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

It's time to face facts; Lucas Leiva is not the midfield enforcer he was turning into two years ago. Two long-term injuries have curtailed that, and he now produces the same errors game after game; frequently giving away both free-kicks and possession.

He isn't dominant and he isn't dynamic. But nor is his midfield partner.

Gerrard is 33 years old, and his lack of mobility or energy is not his fault, but it's completely emphasised alongside Lucas—and even more so when up against such a fluid and skillful midfield as Arsenal's.

For me, Gerrard is playing too much football. He's started every Liverpool game, rarely playing less than 90 minutes, and every England game. He's looked tired since the first international break of the season and was exposed time and again at The Emirates.

Having signed Joe Allen to be his player to control possession in midfield, the problem Rodgers has had ever since his appointment is somehow fitting the Welshman and Gerrard in the same team.

Jordan Henderson was left doing the job of three midfielders on several occasions, with the other two incapable of pressing high up the pitch as they aren't mobile enough to get back if the opponents counter.

Henderson isn't the problem, Gerrard and Lucas are.

 

Here's the issue with the CM, Gerrard's legs have gone which was always gonna happen. Lucas has no legs which leaves us with Henderson alone

— Karl (@Karlton81) November 2, 2013

 

Half-time change

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 02: Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal tackles Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Liverpool at Emirates Stadium on November 2, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Rodgers' half-time change was logical, Aly Cissokho being one of the few footballers who can actually make you miss Jose Enrique, but the mistake was playing the midfield as a flat four, with Philippe Coutinho wide on the left. It meant Lucas and Gerrard were overrun, woefully exposed and passed around.

A narrower diamond midfield would have given Arsenal too much space to attack the full-backs, though, so it wasn't easily solved.

 

Two up top

In the modern game it's rare for a team to have two out-and-out centre-forwards, as teams prefer to dominate the key area of midfield. This is where it becomes an issue for Liverpool.

As Pep Guardiola believes: "You’ll occasionally win games just because you have good strikers and good defenders, but consistent success is impossible unless you have excellent players in midfield."

Liverpool have been wining games because they have good strikers, but once up against a higher quality side, their midfield wasn't able to compete.

 

Solution

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 26:  Liverpool Manager Brendan Rodgers issues instructions during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and West Bromwich Albion at Anfield on October 26, 2013 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Ge
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

There's two sides to the solution, one is the players picked in midfield, while the other is the shape of the side.

A return to 4-2-3-1, with more dynamic and energetic players as the "2" in midfield would attempt to provide the control.

 

We've gone 7 games without a clean sheet, after keeping 3 in our first 3 games, when we went 4 at the back. Coincidence? I don't think so.

— Joseph Musker (@Musker_LFC) November 2, 2013

 

Rodgers' Swansea side were dominant centrally and fast out wide; having Luis Suarez and Victor Moses as the wide players in the "3" behind the main forward would certainly provide this.

Coutinho as the No. 10 with Allen and Henderson behind him in the triangle would be creative, controlling, energetic and dynamic—all the things Liverpool's midfield has not been this season thus far.

One thing that does look likely is that Rodgers will be looking for a midfielder come January.

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