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.
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]
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
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.