Liverpool FC: Kenny Dalglish's Ideal Starting XI
During his time at Liverpool the Reds manager Kenny Dalglish has amassed a large squad full of a variety of different types of players.
How many of these should be included in Liverpool's starting lineup though is a good question and after the disappointing 1-1 draw with Sunderland you can almost accuse the King of not getting the starting XI right on the day. A combination of too many new players starting and a touch of profligacy in front of goal meant that after an impressive first half, one where Liverpool could have been three or four up, we could only muster one point at home against Sunderland, a team tipped to struggle this season.
However we can all see what Kenny Dalglish was trying to accomplish but for me the shape and some of the squad selection was wrong. In the past a 4-4-2 has worked very well for Dalglish, he dominated with the system with Liverpool back in the day and won the League with Blackburn in 1995 using the same system.
Traditionally a Dalglish team has always been about the "big man, little man" combination up front, attacking fullbacks and pacey wing play. Whilst there was elements of those qualities in the Liverpool team that faced Sunderland, it didn't quite work out as well as Dalglish would have hoped.
However there was enough in that first 45 minutes to get Liverpool fans excited about the rest of the season and if the best players can play week in and week out Liverpool have more than enough quality to achieve what is expected of them, mainly European football.
So here we have Dalglish's Ideal starting XI, despite Kenny liking a 4-4-2 I've opted to go with a 4-2-3-1 system (which will be explained why as we go). Some of the players that are selected may not be everyone's first choice, but I assure you all will be explained as we go along.
But Lucas fans don't worry. He's definitely on the team sheet.
GK: Pepe Reina
Obviously no surprises here, Pepe Reina is a magnificent keeper for Liverpool and probably the best in the league. Great shot stopper, good distribution, fast on his feet and rarely makes a mistake, but when he does we remember them well (mainly because they're that rare).
An absolute asset to Liverpool and barely ever injured, you can count on the Spaniard to play every game in the league as well as cup competitions. I think every Liverpool fan would agree that we're lucky to have such a player in between the sticks, ever reliable and always performs.
Great player, great guy.
Centre-Backs: Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel
Probably the first controversial choice of the team selection, the exclusion of Jamie Carragher in favour of the more reliable Martin Skrtel alongside Liverpool's best centre-back Daniel Agger.
Firstly why doesn't Carragher get a starting spot? He may well be Mr. Liverpool but time has taken its toll on Carragher's body and he hasn't adapted well to ageing as a player.
When we look at other older players like Ryan Giggs, you question why Carragher hasn't been able to maintain the same level of competitiveness as the United winger, especially when Giggs plays in a physically more demanding role.
At 33 years of age Carragher can easily be accused of trying to play like a 24-year-old defender, often running himself tired way before the end of 90 minutes and having nowhere near the pace to keep up with the youngsters in the game, dropping far deeper as a result and opening up our back line and not allowing his body the extended resting time it needs. If we look at how Giggs is utilised at United, he doesn't play every game and often has extended rest periods in between games, all of which have helped him look fresh every match he does play and allows him to perform to his maximum potential. That's something Jamie Carragher just hasn't been able to do for quite some time.
When we take those considerations of Carragher on board, it's understandable why Skrtel gets the starting spot over him. Last season he played every single Premier League game and looked solid and reliable throughout the campaign, but more importantly he looked fit throughout every game. He's a strong presence at the back, tough in the tackle and compliments Daniel Agger well.
Speaking of which, reasons why Agger should be in the starting XI are clear to just about every Liverpool supporter. He's assured and calm at the back, brilliant with the ball at his feet and a very determined player who wants to play for Liverpool and do well for the club. A key character feature that Kenny Dalglish admires in his players.
Let's just hope Agger can have a good run of games without injury, because with a ball-playing defender like him, who can bomb forward or lay the ball off to the midfield with precision, combined with a tough tackling and reasonably quick, old fashioned centre-back like Skrtel, it makes for the perfect centre-back combination.
Full-Backs: Jose Enrique and Glenn Jonson
Earlier I mentioned that in the past Kenny Dalglish has utilised attacking full-backs to great effect during his tenure with past teams. The same could be said of the new assistant manager Steve Clarke, who along with Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, also utilised attacking full-backs to great effect.
With Jose Enrique on the left and Glen Johnson on the right it would be natural to assume Liverpool will carry on the tradition of attacking wing play from the back, bolstered by the likes of Downing and Kuyt higher up the pitch.
Obviously the worrying thing about having two attacking full-backs is the risk of being caught short at the back and it seems that Enrique will be the more defensive of the two, telling the media recently he expects "to do more defending" at Liverpool compared to old club Newcastle. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing but does go to show how uneasy Liverpool's back line actually is.
In any case, if both of these players, particularly Glen Johnson can remain just as responsible at the back as they do going forward, picking their moments to overlap carefully, it should allow the creation of more scoring opportunities and more crosses in the box for the likes of Andy Carroll.
Defensive Midfield: Lucas Leiva
One part of the two holding midfielders in this 4-2-3-1 formation, the critical role Lucas plays for Liverpool is still under appreciated by some fans but last season he did a very good job at turning round some of the opinions fans had over him as nothing more than a bit part player.
A master of the shrewd sideways pass and often a great hold up player and ball winner. At Sunderland he showed why he was picked to partner Charlie Adam in midfield, constantly fighting to win back the ball and laying it off to another player in the midfield to restart Liverpool's forward advance.
It's crucial that Lucas plays on the right hand side of the two holding midfielders, mainly to allow Glen Johnson more freedom at right back when he goes forward and to give his midfield partner greater fluency on the left side. By setting up Lucas this way he can plug the gap at right back much like Javier Mascherano did during his time at Liverpool and whilst still act as an Anchorman in front of the two centre-backs.
Deep Lying Playmaker: Charlie Adam
The second of the two holding midfielders in the 4-2-3-1, Adam is the creative element whilst Lucas is the destructive (in regards to the opposition).
When Lucas wins back the ball and creates space, it will be Charlie Adam's job to create opportunities going forward, either with long "Hollywood" passes over the top into the box or with forward runs that can create opportunities for the attacking players. The ability Adam has on the ball is something Liverpool have lacked for quite some time, although comparisons to Xabi Alonso aren't really appropriate in this formation he would be doing a similar job.
One of Adam's key responsibilities however will most likely be set pieces, if the Sunderland game is anything to go by, those crosses into the box from dead ball situations could become great opportunities for Liverpool to score goals. We will however ignore his first attempt at a corner, which was woeful.
The one problem however with Charlie Adam which is being slightly overlooked is the fact that he is not a 90 minute man. At Blackpool last season Adam rarely played 90 minutes of football and his fitness in the Sunderland game was troubling after an hour. When Meireles was warming up last weekend many thought it would be for a straight swap for Adam, understandably in my opinion it was Suarez that came off but without another suitable replacement for Adam he was forced to play the whole game and struggled to make an impact.
It's because of Adam's lack of fitness and inability to play a full game at a high level throughout which will force Liverpool to adapt to three in the midfield in order to compensate for Adam's fitness. His lack of pace is something else Liverpool will have to find a way to cope with as well, because the fastest he ran all match last weekend was towards the penalty spot.
Perhaps he should have ran faster and Liverpool might have won 2-1...
Attacking Midfielder: Steven Gerrard
Captain Fantastic, Liverpool lad and Scouse legend. When fit, Steven Gerrard should always start for Liverpool and it's no surprise that' he's apart of this ideal lineup.
Playing in his best position, the hole behind the striker, it's where he can be most effective and also a position others like Raul Meireles, or Alberto Aquilani, can slot into in his absence.
We all know what Gerrard can do technically for the team, but it's the drive and determination he brings to the squad when Liverpool are trailing or struggling to find the lead, that gives him real value to the starting XI. No matter how bad things can go for Liverpool, it's Steven Gerrard who can pull something out of nowhere to help the team get back on track.
Obviously the only problem with Gerrard is fitness and his inability to stay injury free for a whole season, which is why it's important to utilise Gerrard for the important games and give him adequate recovery time or substitute him early when things are going good.
The time for Steven Gerrard may be getting close to the end and Liverpool need to get the best out of him whilst they still can, otherwise we'll just have an example of Jamie Carragher further up the pitch. But on his day Gerrard is a fantastic player and Liverpool are a much better team with him playing.
Left Winger: Stewart Downing
When all the rumours and news about Stewart Downing flew around Anfield not many were overly impressed with what the heard. However Downing's track record speaks for itself, forever improving as a player, rarely misses a game, especially through injury and has great ability on the left wing. His wondrous solo effort last Saturday that nearly resulted in a goal was just a taste of things to come hopefully.
Downing is however the answer to the left wing problem that has persisted at Liverpool for a fair few seasons before his arrival. At one time Ryan Babel was supposed to be the solution to that problem but obviously things didn't work out. With Downing however Liverpool have a solid and quality left winger that definitely has more to his game then pinging in crosses for Andy Carroll to get on the end of.
Right Wing Forward: Luis Suarez
Probably another surprise, especially at this position because Luis Suarez is a traditionally striker but if the Copa America taught us anything about Liverpool's favourite Uruguayan, it's that he likes to drift wide and cut inside on goal. Add to this his fantastic work rate on the pitch and you have fantastic opportunity to combine Liverpool's large variety of central midfielders with both Carroll and Suarez.
Whilst Suarez on the right does mean that fan favourite Dirk Kuyt is relegated to the bench, it does add an element of pace and unpredictability on the right hand side that Liverpool have never really had before. Then when you consider that Suarez isn't a bad player at putting in crosses into the box and very skilled at getting behind the Fullbacks and penetrating the oppositions box that way.
Of course with Suarez playing wide it does mean you break up that "big man, little man" combo that Dalglish has utilised in the past, but when Suarez and Carroll have played together it has been too tempting for Liverpool players to hoof the ball in the air and hope for the best.
Perhaps then giving Suarez more freedom and space on the right and breaking up their partnership slightly, we can see a better overall quality of football. More of the first 45 minutes against Sunderland rather then the second 45 minutes is what we want to see.
Centre Forward: Andy Carroll
The £35 million man whose, thanks to Liverpool, physio's has been rebuilt and is almost fully fit. It will probably be awhile before he's got that full match sharpness back, considering he's played limited minutes over the last six months but in time that will all come back.
The problem with Carroll is when Liverpool players on the ball seem him up top, towering over other players there's a tendency to just kick the ball in the air and hope he can do something. However Carroll has much more to offer than just an aerial threat and is equally talented with the ball on the ground and at his feet. After all he's got a rocket of a left foot and he ain't bad with his right foot either, so it'd be nice to see some through balls for him to get on the end of, rather than knocking down crosses ten feet in the air.
With players like Carroll up front you've also got the physical presence that other teams like Chelsea with Didier Drogba, or even Manchester City with Edin Dzeko, make use of week after week as they barge open tight defences and make some space for other attacking players to flood in. If we took the time to play Carroll in a less one dimensional role he could prove to be worth the £35 million Liverpool paid for him.
However the same could be said for a lot of the players in the squad and with only eleven positions on the pitch to be filled, Liverpool must use their new squad depth to push harder for that fourth spot all the fans are desperate to see them back in.