We had the best midfield in the world - what now?
Posted by guest on October 26, 2012, 04:43:48 PM
Though John, Paul, George and Ringo might be the most famous quartet to come out of Liverpool, they have competition in terms of receiving the most affection from the locals. Step forward Xabi, Javier, Mohamed and Steven.
It may not roll off the tongue as gracefully, but the collective of Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano, Mohamed Sissoko and Steven Gerrard achieved rockstar status at Liverpool. They were known by Liverpool supporters as the best midfield in the world – a gushing claim, sung loudly to anyone who would listen.
It was a boast that may not have been entirely true: Barcelona had Yaya Touré, Xavi and Andrés Iniesta; Chelsea’s offering of Claude Makelele, Michael Essien and Frank Lampard was also impressive. But Liverpool supporters still had a compelling point.
The midfield four was created in February 2007 when Mascherano joined the club, and abruptly ended just 11 months later when Sissoko was sold to Juventus. In that time, the club reached a Champions League final and lost just five league games – two of those sandwiching a victorious Champions League semi-final against Chelsea.
It was the perfect medley. Mascherano had the tenacity – wearing his heart on his sleeve and his lungs as a waistcoat – while Alonso complemented the Argentinian’s legwork with artistry. Sissoko, fourth in line, was akin to an Energizer bunny. At the apex was Gerrard, at the peak of his powers.
Liverpool’s midfield of 2007 wasn’t just about the individual talent – it was about what it represented, too. Here stood four midfielders at different stages of their career, their presence at Anfield the envy of every club in Europe. Three would move on to Juventus, Real Madrid and Barcelona; the fourth could have taken his pick from any of the three. Their dominance on the field reflected the club’s re-emergence as one of the best sides in Europe.
But with Liverpool’s owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, looking to fund mounting debt repayments, the vultures began to circle. Sissoko’s departure was not felt too keenly with Lucas Leiva being groomed for a first-team role, even if the supporters took time to agree. But it was the losses of Alonso and Mascherano within 12 months that prompted the realisation of the Reds’ decline, alongside the deterioration of Gerrard’s fitness.
Liverpool’s midfield has struggled a lot since Mascherano’s departure, with Lucas’ emergence as a midfield general the only progression. Raul Meireles, Alberto Aquilani and Charlie Adam have spun through Anfield’s revolving door, while Jay Spearing has finally been deemed a Championship player. Though Kenny Dalglish brought Liverpool their first trophy for six years, it sometimes felt little consolation for having to watch a half-fit Gerrard and Adam partnership in central midfield.
Rafael Benítez had two-and-a-half years to build his midfield, time neither Roy Hodgson nor Kenny Dalglish were granted. But new manager Brendan Rodgers has wasted little time in addressing the problem. Out went Adam and Spearing; in their places came Joe Allen and Nuri Sahin (above), two players who regard the relinquishing of possession as a crime against football. Rodgers also sought to promote Jonjo Shelvey to play at the tip of a midfield three, and strived to integrate the ageing Gerrard into his style of play. Central to all that is Lucas. The Brazilian, once an ugly duckling but now an established international, is integral to how the midfield operates.
With Lucas set to return from injury soon, Rodgers will have strong midfield options at his disposal. Like Benítez’s midfield of 2007, his will be one that can control a game, with Lucas and Allen rarely giving the ball away. Sahin and Shelvey both look dangerous getting forward, while Gerrard has adapted his game accordingly.
It may not be the best midfield in the world. It’s not even the best midfield in England – yet. But aside from Gerrard, Rodgers’ midfield has an average age of 22. If the club can keep the on-loan Sahin, and keep progressing, it might not be long before they are. For now, Liverpool fans will be content in having a midfield they can be proud of again.
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