27 June 2008

On Dossena, fullbacks, and the 4-2-3-1

While we’d seen the media treat Dossena like a done deal since his medical, the first hint we’d gotten about it from the official site came yesterday morning in an article where Finnan says he’ll fight for his place. A couple of hours later there’s a statement from Rick Parry saying that the signing should be confirmed next week. I imagine we’ll get the usual parade at Anfield with both Dossena and Degen soon after the official opening of the transfer window.

So now seems as good a time as any to write more about why the upgrades at left and right back could be the most important part of the summer transfer business. I started to hit on this in the Degen post and the ‘season review,’ but with the second signing of a fullback most often described as “attacking,” some elaboration is warranted.

These signings assume that Benitez will stick with the 4-2-3-1, a formation that got the best out of Torres and Gerrard in the second half the season and ended up leading to the most Liverpool goals scored in a season in seven years.

With Babel and Kuyt both better at cutting in than supplying crosses, it’s essential for the fullbacks to add to the attack, especially from wide positions. And having the fullbacks supply crosses with the outside attackers cutting in means there should be enough men in the box to confuse defenders and make targets for said crosses. Having more men in the box and getting the fullbacks forward is essential against the 16 or so teams that usually pack their own half when they come to Anfield, where Liverpool drew six games this season.

Even though Benitez has consistently bought wingers (Nuñez, Gonzalez, Pennant, Zenden, Leto), he’s never spent big money on the position and usually seems to use those types as squad players. That in addition to Liverpool hopefully using the fullbacks for width makes me think the club won’t spend big on a Silva-type this summer. Which means the fullbacks will be that much more important.

Then there were Liverpool’s problems in defense last season. To be fair, the injury to Agger hurt more than anything else, but Finnan, Arbeloa, and Riise didn’t play to their capabilities either, and the combined result was Liverpool’s worst defensive record since Benitez’s first season.

I realize complaining about the defensive record while praising the signing of an attacking fullback seems contradictory, but the more consistently Liverpool attacks, the easier it will be to defend. Especially if you’re adding a quicker defender who can play a high line, as Liverpool often does. Plus, I’m going to be stereotypical here and assume that all Italians are bred to be excellent defenders, some Euro 2008 performances not withstanding.

For all the attacking Riise did, he still shot from distance where passing could have opened up the opposition (and retained possession) more often than not and was shockingly one-footed. I realize I’m trashing JAR a week after writing a fond farewell, but it was what it was.

With Dossena, Liverpool hopefully have a better passer, and more importantly, crosser to help make better use of their possession. In addition, Dossena’s also played in left midfield when Udinese’s gone 3-4-3, so he’s seemingly as versatile as Aurelio and Riise.

I admittedly haven’t seen as much of Dossena as I’d like, catching parts of a few Udinese games on FSC this season and watching the requisite YouTube clips. Much of my optimism comes from the reports in media and various forum posts, my favorite being:

A description of him from a Milan fan: ''Dossena is absolutely tough as nails, left footed, highly skilled but still thuggish in terms of tackling, certainly tactically astute, pace, power, puts in a great ball with his left foot, extremely accurate passer, gets forward, runs all match, etc ... just a top player tailor made for your league.''

Of course I can’t promise it’s true, but it’s ever so much fun to read.

These reviews, the fact that £7m is a record fee for a defender, and that AC Milan, Juventus and Fiorentina were rumored to be in for him, while I’ve wanted Liverpool to sign quality at left back, is enough to make me so optimistic.

Besides, with the sale of Riise to Roma and the fee for Dossena quoted at £7m, it’s only a net £3m for a player that, at the age of 26, should just be hitting his peak.

Italians are rarely renowned for their travels. Only three from this year’s Euro squad (Grosso, Zambrotta, and Toni) ply their trade outside Serie A, there have been few in the Premiership (outside of Chelsea around the turn of the century), and the only other Italian to play for Liverpool was on-loan goalkeeper Daniele Padelli, who started the last game of the 06/07 season at Charlton. However, that Dossena turned down interest in Italy to sign for Liverpool shows the scope of his ambitions and his belief that he can succeed abroad.

Chances are it’ll take time for the player to settle. Those like Torres (and Skrtel for that matter) are aberrations; most foreigners take time to adjust to the style and speed of the English game. Which makes Aurelio of the utmost importance for Dossena’s first few months.

With Arbeloa/Finnan/Degen and Aurelio/Dossena, Liverpool have at least two players for both fullback slots, and Benitez can use each as opposition, injuries, and playing style dictates. Each player brings a different dimension to the team, and creates “possibilities” for Benitez. Plus, having two viable options at left back is a necessity given Aurelio’s injury history.

In addition, I obviously can’t forget Insua, but at 19 he’s still more likely to get starts in the Carling Cup or even go out on loan (although I’ve seen nothing rumored). As much as I like the little Argentinean, 19 is almost always far too young for a Premiership left back. But when Insua is 23, Dossena will be 30 and Aurelio 32.

Granted, I won’t be satisfied if Dossena is the biggest name brought in this summer. But with Dossena and Degen signed, the fullbacks are taken care of for the summer. If both players can add the attacking dimension hoped for and gel with Carragher, Agger, and Skrtel, that alone will make Liverpool more competitive than they were last season.


Aravind said...

Nice article. Linked to this in my 'weekend news roundup'

Nithin said...

Great post! :)

Now that the Degen and Dossena deals are completed, we have to start looking at the midfield.

I don't understand why we should spend more than £15m on Barry... why can't we continue with Xabi? And I really hate to see Crouchie leave... we didn't get to see the Torres-Crouch pairing all that often last season. Why can't we throw out Voronin instead? ;)

Maybe we'll see you posting about those topics next? Would love to hear your opinions about that. :)