John Nyen ahead of the curve again on EPL and Anfield analysis
When Liverpool dipped their toe into the transfer market in the past window, there was a distinctly British feel to the occasion. Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam, Craig Bellamy and Stuart Downing all joined the club bringing to the forefront the idea that Kenny was going home-grown.
In interviews, Kenny Dalglish said that nationality wasn’t important, but with home-grown quotas going into effect and the spending put into place one could justifiably feel that Kenny was looking for a British Backbone to represent the hard-working English port town.
By the end of the transfer window fully 17 of the 31 players on Liverpool’s main squad were British, with 14 of those being English. In this day and age in the Barclay’s Premier league, that is a greater number of local boys than most.
BTW: I can hear you already, yes you… over in the corner frothing at the mouth because Charlie Adam and Craig Bellamy are Scottish and Welsh. Well… to you I say, “British describes citizens of the United Kingdom, of the Isle of Man, any of the Channel Islands, of any of the British overseas territories, and their descendants. The United Kingdom includes both Scotland and Wales.” So, settle down there you.
What most people didn’t expect, however, was that the most British or English if you prefer of all the players acquired by Liverpool was none other than a 5’11” Uruguayan.
Many people when they think about British style and (more specifically due to their global successes and failures) English style, they tend to think of aggressive play, getting stuck in, stout defense, kick and rush, and getting balls into the box.
A team like Stoke realizes those dreams into a current iteration of older style English play. However, this isn’t the norm as much in the Barclays as it was in the past. The English national team as well has attempted to move away from kick and rush football (arguably if you believe Beckenbauer).
Realistically, the modern playing ideals behind Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester City are an amalgam of styles brought into the country by both British and foreign players and coaches. The transformation has been evident as first the technical strikers (Thierry Henry, Ruud Van Nistelroy), then the technical midfielders (Pires, Makelele) and now finally some defenders (David Luiz).
Style should be a function of the skills of players meshing with the ideals of football to bring out the best in those players.
What is interesting here is the ultimate mutation of styles which lead to players like Luis Suarez. Love him or hate him (and there aren’t very many options in-between) Suarez is undoubtedly a talented player.
The interesting fermentation at work here is that as much money as Kenny Dalglish spent on picking up Henderson, Adam, Carroll, Bellamy and Downing… his most English/British player pick-up has been Suarez.
Ah yes, we can find videos of Suarez slipping by players on the end line, and stepping over the ball, tricking players and firing the ball into the net. Yet, Suarez is quite often receiving the ball with his back to goal, passing back to the midfield for an attempted give and go and making his space available for his runs into the box. He is doggedly chasing down long balls to defenders and putting pressure on them to force turnovers (ala with Everton). He is pressuring the back line, then disappearing into the midfield to suddenly re-appear wide open awaiting a cross in the box.
One can actually look at someone on the same team who represents the old English football archetype, that player being Andy Carroll. Andy seemingly refuses to be English given his size and game.
Carroll should be the first into the box, combating headers, banging around with players and attempting to tower over teams, but during the Everton game he would seemingly hang back, attempting to pass or shoot with his feet, almost ignoring his advantage. For a player who scored six goals with his head last season, he currently hangs further outside the box and almost plays as a the second striker to the 5’11 Suarez in Liverpool’s 4-4-2.
One can look heat maps on pundit chalkboards for some interesting percentages as Suarez spends the most amount of his time in the middle of the final third of the field whereas Carroll alternates between the middle third of the field and the left side (depending on which game you analyze).
Either his game plan or his mentality (right now) are such that he plays more akin to a false nine than a striker leading the line.
Another wrinkle in this story is that Uruguay really began the introduction of the short passing style during the 1924 Olympics. They won gold in both 1924 and 1928 largely redefining the physical nature of the game in that day. When you start integrating the fluidity and creative movement of South America with the stubborn go-at-them approach of the British game you get a player like Suarez.
Now this isn’t a piece to blow up the skirt of Suarez.
Rather the kid has some competitive problems. He is a win at all cost type player, which sounds really great until he starts biting people, having deliberate hand balls to stop goals from going in, or creating opportunities by theatrics.
Then again, those things are only really bothersome for those people who do not have him on their team. We all rail against theatrics until our team wins because of them, then we cheekily say things akin to “well I wish he hadn’t done it, but we ran your team off the field in the second half” (or the Barcelona response which usually includes the words Pepe/Mourinho in a derogatory way).
The concern here for Liverpool, as well as other teams, is valuing the idea of the nationality of British as containing the football values or football influence that they want on the field, and overpaying for that nationality. The idea of a British backbone for a team is just as foolhardy as saying that there are no tough Spanish players, that Barcelona dives all the time, or that Stoke doesn’t play football. Currently in this Liverpool experiment you have a Brazilian playing as the no-flair defensive holding midfielder, a Uruguayan playing as the target forward, and a Dutch man as a hard-working, not-super-skilled midfielder.
Now this isn’t to specifically say that Liverpool overpaid for someone like Andy Carroll, because the situation of his pick-up was drastically different from that of Adam, Downing, Henderson, and Bellamy. They were given house money from Chelsea to play with in the transfer of Torres and decided to spend way too much money to make a statement. Now that statement down the road may be that they spent too much, but their net transfer spend was still in balance. (Note: 50 million pounds for Torres, 35 million pounds for Carroll. Even if you include Suarez into the equation that makes a 7 million pound spend for two players. By the way, there is a fallacy that Liverpool could have picked up someone like Aguero for 35 million pounds, which wouldn’t have been the case during the winter transfer window. Liverpool were over a barrel, and needed to fire a round across the bow.) T
The issue here could be the overvaluing of the players like Henderson who wasn’t exactly the most tested at his club before he left. Still finding his feet, he was acquired based on the potential (future national-team member), his age, and his nationality. However one only has to look at the outlay of money in mid-fielders that Liverpool has made and see that the best thing they did was pick up Suarez for 22 million pounds.
The acquisitions that Liverpool made over the last transfer window has (without Suarez) made them look almost Spanish or Italian at times. They are content to pass the ball around, sideways, diagonals back, and out to the wing. Possession for the sake of possession without a cutting edge, they have been described at times as being 4 defensive players and 6 mid-fielders. However, with Suarez in the lineup they are decidedly more vertical, decidedly more dangerous and decidedly more British at times.
They have tried this with just Carroll on the field but somehow the long booting balls of Carragher aren’t quite finding their way yet; and Carroll hasn’t been on the same page as Downing or Kelly when they hump balls into the box. The funny thing here is that right now, Liverpool needs a Uruguayan to make their vertical game work.
Nyen ahead of the curve previously: