13 July 2009

On Liverpool’s Central Midfield

It’s time for another installment of “Here are the results when certain players play and let’s hope it proves something.” This edition focuses on the central midfield, as one of the midfielders evidently has Benitez tied up in his basement and is demanding plane tickets to Madrid (I think it was in the Daily Mail).

I’m only including pairings that played more than one game together, and counting games from every competition except the Carling Cup, which doesn’t add anything (unless you care that Lucas/Plessis was 1-0-1). The formation was 4-2-3-1 unless otherwise noted. As always, the formations are how I saw them, so feel free to quibble.

Mascherano/Alonso: 14-5-2
3-1 Spurs, 3-0 Newcastle, 4-4 Arsenal [4-4-2, no Ste], 4-0 Blackburn [4-4-2, no Ste], 5-0 Villa, 4-0 Real, 0-2 Boro, 1-0 Real, 2-0 Chelsea, 1-1 Everton (FAC), 2-0 Preston, 2-2 Hull, 3-1 Blackburn [4-1-4-1 with Masch sitting deep], 1-0 Marseille, 2-0 Bolton, 1-1 Atletico, 1-2 Spurs, 1-0 Chelsea, 1-1 Atletico, 3-2 City, 2-1 United [4-4-2, no Ste]

Lucas/Masch: 6-4-0
2-0 West Brom, 3-0 West Ham, 4-1 United, 1-1 City, 1-1 Wigan, 0-0 Stoke, 5-1 Newcastle, 3-1 PSV [4-4-2], 0-0 Fulham [4-4-2], 2-1 Marseille

Gerrard/Alonso [4-4-2]: 7-3-0
2-0 Sunderland, 1-1 Everton, 3-0 Bolton, 0-0 West Ham, 3-2 Wigan, 3-1 PSV, 2-0 Everton, 0-0 Stoke, 1-0 Liege (aet), 2-1 Boro

Lucas/Alonso: 2-1-2
1-3 Chelsea, 1-0 Fulham, 0-1 Everton (aet), 1-1 Arsenal, 1-0 Pompey

Alonso/Lucas/Masch [4-1-4-1]: 1-2-0
3-1 Hull, 4-4 Chelsea, 0-0 Villa

Also as always, stats aren’t the end all, be all. I don’t think Liverpool’s best in a 4-4-2 with Gerrard and Alonso in the middle (evidenced by the fact the last time that pairing featured was February), and I don’t expect Liverpool to go back to the formation even if Alonso’s sold. But there are still a couple of noteworthy tidbits.

Alonso and Mascherano, unsurprisingly, played the most games, and mostly played in the 4-2-3-1. And started in what might have been Liverpool’s best performances (4-0 Real and 5-0 Villa, although there’s clearly a case for 4-1 United), as well as the worst (0-2 Boro). Liverpool didn’t have any stale 0-0 league draws when Alonso and Mascherano were paired, scoring in 20 of the 21 matches, but the 0-2 Boro loss, 1-2 Spurs loss, and 2-2 Hull draw were arguably just as damaging to the campaign.

If you’d asked me to guess the records before looking them up, I’d have been close to accurate on Alonso/Masch, but not so much for Lucas/Alonso or Lucas/Masch. I’d have assumed Lucas/Alonso was a lot better and Lucas/Masch had one or two other tame draws. The 1-3 Chelsea loss is the only match I can remember where Liverpool was overrun in midfield when Lucas and Alonso started, and I distinctly remember praising their performance in the Arsenal match.

Given the Alonso “news,” I’m obviously most interested in the Lucas/Mascherano results. Which, unsurprisingly, are hit and miss – when they were good, Liverpool were fairly dominant, and Liverpool dominated in five of those six wins (Marseille was close throughout). And when they provided little cutting thrust, Liverpool weren’t very good, and that helped lead to the four draws. But it’s not as if you can blame a limited attack solely on the holding midfielders.

The opponents in the matches that ended even weren’t exactly a murderer’s row, which isn’t exceptionally heartening. Lucas/Masch worried me the most against teams with ten men behind the ball, and these stats don’t change that. But it’s not as if all the 0-0 draws came when Lucas and Mascherano started (just 40 percent!).

I’m most interested in the last three Lucas/Masch matches. Admittedly, Liverpool was hitting on all cylinders at the time, the attack was in blistering form, and that certainly helped. But the pairing also played to its potential, against mediocre teams happy to defend deep as well as the eventual champions, and that bodes well.

I realize I was considered a Lucas apologist back when he was a mid-season scapegoat. So you’re probably taking this with a grain of salt, and I don’t blame you. But I definitely think the kid’s got potential, and those late-season results make me hopeful something’s starting to click.

I still think Lucas needs to increase his game intelligence to be a regular starter (which comes with experience), and I still think that a replacement will be needed if Xabi leaves. But these stats will also make me feel better if that does happen.


Mike Georger said...

I was firmly in the camp of 'Lucas is fit only for Italy' the first half of the season. However; I think he vastly improved his game over the stretch run, and he is still very young all things considered. He needed to bulk up and did that, I think this preseason will be very important for him.

And it will be important for Spearing as well. If Alonso agrees to stay this year then move next summer (you know, like Ronaldo did, do you really want to go out having less honor than Ronaldo?) one of the biggest things could be watching the development of Lucas and Spearing, because who knows, one of them could well be his replacement.

amarestoudemaxo said...

I was sad that Bordeaux signed Gourcuff from Milan. I would have pegged him as the perfect Alonso replacement, and young, too.

Mike Georger said...

I had a dream we signed Andrea Pirlo last night.

Not sure what that says about my life, but hey, it was a good dream.

Matt said...

Lucas - like Babel - for me lacks strong footballing instincts. He can't seem to see beyond his own feet, takes terrible angles to defend, often probes forward with awry passes and touches, and more. He did improve, but compared to what? He missed some good chances in front of goal too.

Losing Alonso must compel a worthy replacement. I don;t think Lucas fits the bill.

Shawn said...

What do you make of the rumors that Aquilani will be brought in as an Alonso replacement?

Mike Georger said...

Anyone else subject themselves to today's friendly? I have a few thoughts.

- Nemeth is really tiny, yet they were launching balls in for his head, that doesn't make sense.

- Babel played very well out wide on the left then struggled when he shifted back to center.

- Voronin is going to be the new Kuyt, I can feel it. Tracks back, workrate, all that jazz. I actually hope he sticks around.

- Degen is uh ... he's, he's not good.

- Insua made some nice defensive plays, which obviously is the biggest thing he needs to work on being young.

- Spearing looks like a fetus.

- Yossi looked to be in mid season form, his pull backs are getting better and better. What a signing.

- Kelly made an amazing tackle around the 58 minute mark, just brutally brought down a guy outside of the box, absolutely textbook. Really looking forward to watching this kid play, he's a monster.

- There is no way Darby is only five foot eight.

- Pachecho looks like he did last preseason, he gets into space without and effort it seems, just randomly pops up with a one v one, then waits too long to pull the trigger.

- Glen Johnson. Wow. First of all he played at left back. But immediately upon entering he made a difference. He strides with the ball like Gerrard does, and was beating guys with the dribble easily. His first touch was incredible and he nearly scored on a beautiful link up with Ngog. Had a few nice crosses too. Considering he was playing out of position, he put in a beautiful first performance.

Only seven more boring ass friendlies to go!