Why Defensive Midfield Is the Area Liverpool Need to Address Most

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Why Defensive Midfield Is the Area Liverpool Need to Address Most
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As soon as Lucas Leiva hobbled off the Anfield pitch during Liverpool's 2-2 draw with Aston Villa last week, a central defensive midfielder became the upmost priority for Liverpool fans in the January transfer window.

However, it would be naive to suggest that this is a new problem for Liverpool, caused by the Brazilian's injury.

Throughout the campaign so far, Liverpool have been caught on the back foot in central midfield.

Both Lucas and Steven Gerrard do not possess the pace to keep up with increasingly swift Premier League attacks; none more evident than in the Reds' 2-0 defeat at Arsenal in November. 

Matt Ladson addressed the problem in an article for Bleacher Report at the time:

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 skilful midfield as Arsenal's.

With Joe Allen a doubt for Tuesday's Merseyside derby, and having another injury troubled season, Rodgers could find himself with a selection headache, having failed when starting with just Gerrard and Jordan Henderson in midfield against Aston Villa recently.

This two-man midfield also forced 33-year-old Gerrard to cover more distance than is efficient for the Reds' captain.

Liverpool need a player in midfield who takes on defensive responsibilities: athletic enough to track back and act as a last man between midfield and defence and able enough to put in a commanding tackle.

With the right fit in that area, Liverpool's defence will surely tighten up. Too many times this season, Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger, Mamadou Sakho and Kolo Toure have been seen back-pedaling against an opposition attack because of the gaping hole left in front of them by Liverpool's midfield.

Whilst this is no new problem for Rodgers, Lucas' injury reduces his options dramatically and suddenly this becomes an urgent issue to address.

 

The Targets

Dmitry Korotayev/Getty Images

In and amongst the ridiculously crowded metaphorical rumour mill, speculation regarding moves for two central defensive midfielders have stood out: Spartak Moscow's Romulo Borges Monteiro and Atletico Madrid's Saul Niguez.

Jamie Sanderson of the Metro was the first to report the Reds' interest in Romulo last Thursday.

The Brazilian international, a London 2012 Olympian with a hard-hitting and commanding philosophy to football, showed brief glimpses of being the Patrick Vieira-esque player Liverpool so desperately crave during his first six games for Spartak—but that was near-on 18 months ago.

A severe knee injury and subsequent two operations have seen 23-year-old Romulo sit out of action for the best part of a year and a half, and any move for the former Vasco da Gama player would come with high risks.

David Ramos/Getty Images

Perhaps a more cautious, although less experienced, transfer target would be Niguez, who Alan Nixon of the Mirror claims Liverpool have held a "secret meeting" with the father of.

Niguez, currently on-loan at Rayo Vallecano from Atletico, is an exciting 19-year-old Spanish Under-21 international.

However, on Sunday, in a La Liga game against his parent club, Niguez played as part of a rather uninspiring Vallecano defence that went down 4-2 to the club from the capital.

 

Chances Of A Signing

Rodgers has already admitted that if the opportunity to sign a first-team player that improves his current starting XI doesn't come along, he is already prepared to use what he's got.

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He was quoted by the Telegraph on Monday as saying:

I wouldn't bring in a player here in January unless he was a really outstanding player who we could get on a loan that is going to really help.

[sic]

I think we have shown up until this point that with the squad we are a team up there on merit. If we can't bring in the players who can help us that is unfortunate.

If none come in that will galvanise us even more and we will focus in on the players we have.

And he's right. Liverpool need to avoid signing players for the sake of signing players, a very expensive mistake in previous years. If the right player isn't out there, or available to Liverpool, Rodgers has no choice but to hold on to what he's got.

Adapting his team with the first-choice and youth players already at his disposal, whilst continuing this successful season, may be the making of Rodgers as a great manager.

Furthermore, should Liverpool qualify for the Champions League, they will be able to attract a bigger, better calibre of player come the summer transfer market.

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