I know – it sounds ridiculous to suggest that Liverpool should not sign a striker of Eto’o’s calibre; however, once you think about it logically, and in the context of the recent Robbie Keane situation, I believe it becomes much clearer.
Quite simply, the Liverpool team is incapable of playing 4-4-2 successfully with Steven Gerrard in the centre, which is where he would need to be in that formation.
Everybody is always going on about how Gerrard’s best position is central midfield, but if that’s the case, why does not play there for Liverpool or England?
Gerrard has proved that he cannot form a *consistently* successful midfield partnership with anyone, at club or country level.
Whether it’s Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano, Momo Sissoko, Lucas Leiva or Frank Lampard, Gerrard just does not function successfully in a midfield two.
As I see it, the main reasons for this are positional indiscipline and a rampaging hero complex. Basically, Gerrard always wants to do everything himself, which means he abandons his position on a frustratingly regular basis, leaving holes for others to exploit. It’s just part of Gerrard’s all-action, gung ho approach to the game.
As a result of this, the Liverpool team has been chopped and changed in every conceivable way over the years in an attempt to accommodate Gerrard, who now plays his best football in the free role just behind Torres.
And therein lies the problem: the whole team is set-up to get the best out of Gerrard, which means that if Liverpool buy another top quality striker and accommodate him *regularly*, the formation would need to switch from 4231 to 4-4-2.
As we saw with the Robbie Keane fiasco, it’s a mistake to change a winning system just to try and accommodate another striker. Keane just didn’t fit into Liverpool’s system and the team could not adapt to successfully playing 442.
It is no coincidence that as soon as Liverpool reverted to the 4231 formation, performances began to improve.
Bearing in mind how Robbie Keane – a striker of undoubted quality - was misused by Benitez and forced to play in unfamiliar positions/formations, what happens when Eto’o doesn’t fit in or doesn’t work with Torres in a 442?
Eto’o is not going be happy being played out of position or sitting on the bench waiting for Keane-like cameo roles. A player of that quality needs to play regularly and should play regularly, or what’s the point of spending all the money?
And what happens if both Eto’o and Torres stay fit for the whole season? Based on past experience, it’s almost a given that Benitez will stick with playing one up front, which means one of the two will :
1. Be played out of position, most likely on the wing
2. Spend lots of time on the bench
There’s no way Fernando Torres is going to be happy sitting on the bench regularly to accommodate someone else, and Liverpool fans wouldn’t stand for that anyway, so what is the solution?
Unfortunately, the solution is that Liverpool cannot and should not buy another Torres-quality striker whilst 4231 is the preferred formation and Gerrard continues to excel in the link role behind the striker.
I raised this very same issue a year ago when Liverpool were linked with Keane and David Villa. I argued that if either one was bought, they would end up being wasted and misused. Of course, no one would have it, but look what happened.
As a historical analogy, consider the Ian Rush/John Aldridge situation from the late 80s. Two fantastic, top class strikers – surely a dream to have them both in the same team?
However, they rarely played together as a two man strike force; it was nothing to do with them – Liverpool’s system just wouldn’t allow it. Consequently, despite being an absolutely outstanding goal scorer for Liverpool, Aldridge had to go.
Man United have similar problems – look how hard it is for them to accommodate Dimitar Berbatov, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez.
Having said all that, let's excplore the issue a little. A team with a 4-4-2 formation with Eto’o and Torres together could line up like this (Using the current squad):
Arbeloa --------- Carra --------- Agger -------- Aurelio
Kuyt ------ Gerrard ------ Mascherano ----- Riera
--------------- Eto’o------------- Torres
The Gerrard-Mascherano partnership *does not work*. For proof of this, just examine the games in which the partnership has been utilized and then look at the results and the turgid performances that came out of it.
In any event, as discussed above, Gerrard in the center *consistently* is a non-starter.
The 4-4-2 formation could possibly work if the team lined up like this:
Arbeloa --------- Carra --------- Agger -------- Aurelio
Gerrard ------ Alonso ------ Mascherano ----- Riera
------------------ Eto'o -------- Torres
Everybody with any objectivity and sense knows that the best position for Gerrard in a 4-4-2 is on the right, as this is of greatest benefit to the *team*. Gerrard has repeatedly made it clear that he does not like playing in that position, so that is also a non-starter.
So choices are thus: Play 4-4-2 with Gerrard in the center or play 4-2-3-1 with Gerrard behind Torres. Surely the answer is to stick with what works?
Rafa has *finally* hit upon a winning formula in the premiership after 5 years of trying - it would surely be madness to change things now...wouldn't it?
As long as Gerrard is at the club, Rafa should stick with the 4-2-3-1 formation and spend any transfer funds on creative right and left wingers/midfielders and pacy, creative fullbacks.
Liverpool *do* need another striker, but Benitez should someone in the £10m range – someone not on the same level as Torres but excellent in their own right, who will not expect to start every game.
After the failure of Fernando Morientes, the conversion fo Dirk Kuyt, the marginalisation of Peter Crouch and the mishandling of Robbie Keane, I just can’t bear to see another top quality striker fail at Anfield.