Current Liverpool defensive midfielder Javier Mascherano is reported to undergo a medical to join FC Barcelona on the coming Monday. Mascherano, who's career has taken a significant turn for the better after joining Liverpool in 2007, has forced Roy Hodgson's hand and has pushed strongly for a move to Barcelona.
Mascherano, usually praised for showing professionalism both on and off the pitch, did the opposite of that as he forced his Barcelona move by requesting Roy Hodgson not to play him in the match against Manchester City - he stated that he did not want to get injured as he was awaiting his dream move to Barcelona. Liverpool will receive a reported fee of 21 million euros for the transfer of the Argentine captain.
Perhaps the one quote underlining Mascherano's importance and value in a team comes from the one and only Diego Maradona. Maradona, when asked about his tactics used for Argentina, is quoted as saying "My team is Javier Mascherano and 10 others". Whether Diego knows anything at all about tactics is certainly debatable, but Mascherano's importance to a team is not.
Javier Mascherano is the personification of the word "Destroyer". He is a relentless defender, sitting just above the center backs and providing cover should a fullback choose to bombard down a flank and leave space exposed for the opposing team to exploit. Mascherano is a fantastic winner of the ball, he is able to read the game, close down opponents with ease, and win possession that can then be turned into a counter-attack. Mascherano's quality is non-debatable, and he is one of the duo, the other being Xabi Alonso, that Liverpool fans once sang about as being "the best midfield in the world".
So with Mascherano's departure from the club, the question arose as to how to replace him. Roy Hodgson acted quickly in the transfer market, targeting FC Porto Vice-Captain and Portuguese midfielder Raul Meireles. The move came as a surprise, Porto fans were positive Meireles would leave, but his likely destination seemed to be Manchester United, with Sir Alex keeping a close eye on the midfielder after being a stand-out performer for the Selecção at the world cup.
Meireles is reported to have signed for a fee close to 13 million euros and Liverpool fans will be glad to add another player featuring regularly for his national side to the club. The question at hand however, is whether or not Meireles has been brought in to replace Mascherano, and if he has the skills to do so. Most Liverpool fans, and understandably so, have seen little of Meireles. As a supporter of both LFC and FC Porto, I feel it is beneficial to clarify to Liverpool supporters the qualities that Meireles brings to the team and the role which he plays on the pitch.
Mascherano is a ball-winner, a defensive midfielder through and through. Meireles, to be blunt, is not. Rather than sit above the back four and help reduce the attacking threat of the opposition, Meireles looks to play his team mates into the box with precise passing. Meireles is a very traditional box-to-box midfielder, his runs off the ball can be dangerous and can catch defenders off guard. He covers a vast amount of ground during a game, he is one of those players who although has the ability to go unnoticed, is everywhere on the pitch. Meireles, although not as good in defensive duties as Mascherano, has decent defensive qualities as well as an array of attacking qualities, and his delivery and football-IQ are potent weapons in his arsenal.
Although definitely not a like-for-like swap, Meireles is coming in for a fee nearly half of what Barcelona are paying for Mascherano, and he can provide the extra attacking threat and versatility that Liverpool FC need to once again challenge for the title. if Hodgson has bought Meireles to play the same role that Mascherano has played for Liverpool FC, Meireles will fail, plain and simple. However, if Hodgson has brought in Meireles to partner an able defensive midfielder, either Lucas or Poulsen, Liverpool will have gained a great player, and one who can provide that killer ball that opens up the space for Gerrard, Cole, or Torres to exploit.
Losing a great player in Mascherano, Liverpool will gain a great, although different, player in Raul Meireles. Perhaps he can be the piece of the puzzle that allows our attacking threat to become as free-flowing as the days of Xabi Alonso.
Pending a medical - Welcome Raul Meireles! You'll Never Walk Alone!