16 March 2010

On Aquilani “versus” Lucas

Yep, can't help myself. It's the big talking point after yesterday's win.

It's simplistic, but the main difference between Lucas and Aquilani seemed the type of passes they look to play. I'm approximating for effect, but something like 2 out of 5 Lucas passes push the ball upfield (a big reason why his pass attempts and completion rate are so high). It was about 4 of 5 from Aqua yesterday.

Seeing Liverpool intent on getting the ball into the opposition half and perpetually moving towards goal is something we've all been rightfully clamoring for. The tactic worked a peach against Portsmouth, and I wish we had seen similar against the likes of Wolves and Wigan, even if both were away from Anfield. The direness in attack has demonstrated Benitez needs to remove the shackles since the defense has settled. But it won't work in every game, as much as we'd all love for Liverpool to set the tone and tempo every time out.

I can't help comparing yesterday's team to Liverpool's 5-1 win over Newcastle in December 2008. That line-up was:

Reina
Carragher Agger Hyypia Insua
Lucas Mascherano
Benayoun Gerrard Babel
Kuyt

Lucas and Mascherano holding, Kuyt as a lone striker, and Carragher instead of Johnson at right back. And yet Liverpool still scored five. I wouldn't have wanted to see that team yesterday, and Newcastle's defense was even worse than Pompey's on that day (especially on set plays), but it's worth noting that system's brought goals in the past (and a similar XI, albeit with Torres up top, featured in the 4-1 win over the Mancs).

Yesterday's line-up, with an equally emphatic scoreline against a team bound for the Championship, looked completely different. I wrote it up as 4-1-4-1 in my match review, even if Aquilani was a deep-lying playmaker almost in the vein of (say it quietly) Alonso at times. But he demonstrated far more off the ball movement and attacking verve (and much less, albeit unnecessary, defensive aptitude); this is an enjoyable compilation of his match. It's exceptionally early days, but Aquilani looked most like a bigger Paul Scholes.

But just because Aquilani was an absolute pleasure to watch yesterday doesn't mean Lucas is a bad player or Liverpool can't win with Lucas/Mascherano in midfield. The two aren't relative or reciprocal. Both Lucas and Aquilani have roles to fill and can succeed at the club.

Liverpool's found it difficult to break down sides with the usual 4-2-3-1 where it worked a treat last season. Whether that's down to Liverpool injuries (most significantly to Torres), poor individual performances, Alonso's exit, more conservative tactics from Benitez, or the opposition figuring the system out is for someone smarter than I to deduce (although my guess is it's a bit from each). This obviously could be a remedy.

Thursday's match against Lille will be an excellent barometer for any longer-term tactical changes. I don't want to take any steam out of the preview I'll write tomorrow, but we should learn a bit about the team and the rest of the season. It's a European match, so you'd expect Liverpool to be cagey, but they need a goal. But they also have to be more cautious than against Pompey as Lille have the pieces to pose a huge threat on the counter (Hazard, Frau, Cabaye, Obraniak). However, even though Liverpool play three games in six days during this crucial stretch, that the team played its best football in months on Monday will hopefully be the overriding factor.

Either way, it'll be interesting. It's a European night at Anfield.

8 comments:

drew said...

Incidentally, Gerrard is in the clear. The FA spoke to Attwell, who presumably said "If Stevie hadn't done it then I would have," the FA said, "Right, God knows we'd all take turns on him if we could," and that was that.

nate said...

It's either that or the FA's not allowed to punish Stevie for anything in a World Cup year.

Matt said...

Aquilani is also proving no slouch at backtracking and defending. And his touch,hold up play, and ability to dodge pressure are all superior to Lucas.

Ed said...

Stole my thunder here...I think at times Liverpool just need something different than what Lucas can provide. Doesn't necessarily lessen his talent or ability, but maybe indicates that right now a shake-up isn't a bad thing.

Bryce said...

I really enjoy reading this blog, but at long last, I must express my take on Lucas:

1) You can keep saying that Lucas is not a bad player, but every time I see him on the pitch, he just looks like a mess - simplistic passing, poor shots, and clumsy tackles. I just cannot imagine Lucas being able to start (or even make the squad) for Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal . . . . or Manchester City or Tottenham for that matter. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I have seen nothing to warrant that.

2) I just really have a hard time stomaching the Lucas-Mascherano pairing. Mascherano is an absolute beast of a defensive midfielder (in a good way), and I would be ok with Lucas giving Mascherano a break from time to time. But the two of them together just do nothing on the attacking end and completely throw off the dynamic of the more attacking players (Gerrard, Torres, Benayoun). Unless Liverpool is content to be a classier version of Stoke, this pairing should be avoided at all costs. One is ok, but the combination just does not result in a balanced midfield.

Issam said...

This would happen right now, given the season Liverpool's having: http://www.clickliverpool.com/sport/liverpool-fc/128409-liverpool-fcs-alberto-aquilani-doubtful-for-europa-league-clash.html

nate said...

Bryce,

I just think you (and many, many others; I'm not trying to single you out) are writing off a 22yr old Brazilian playing the hardest position in the hardest league far too soon.

That and Liverpool have beaten the Mancs, City, and Spurs (and drawn Arse and Chelsea) with Lucas starting, so your first point isn't just unfair, it's moot.

Look, we've all seen that Lucas/Masch isn't dynamic enough in many games. Tactics haven't helped in many of those games, for the reasons elucidated far too often this season. We all wish Aquilani had shown what he did on Monday months ago. But Lucas isn't the reason Liverpool's in this mire, just as he wasn't the sole reason Liverpool beat the Mancs, City, Spurs, etc. when he's started.

Bryce said...

Nate,

Point taken. I realize that I am singling Lucas out when Liverpool's problems go far beyond one player. This season has just been so frustrating!!

Keep up the good work.