Who Should Start – Carroll or Bellamy | Henderson or Kuyt | Downing or Maxi?
We look at the attacking options available to Liverpool, in particular whether the new signings should start ahead of established players.
Liverpool’s victory over Chelsea at the weekend with a side looking more like the one fielded during the impressive second half of last season raised questions of what really is their best starting line-up. More specifically, who are the best four players for the now standard 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1/4-2-2-2 hybrid formation.
By front four, I’m referring to the two wide players and the two central strikers ahead of them, so for this article we will ignore the other seven players in the team. Against Chelsea, those four players where Maxi, Suarez, Bellamy and Kuyt.
Before the Summer transfer window Kenny Dalglish said:
“If we’re bringing anyone in they’ve got to be better than what we’ve got – and that’s going to be a big ask.”
Suarez is by far Liverpool’s best player so there is no point in comparing him to anyone, as his spot in Liverpool’s best front four is assured. Most of Liverpool’s signings are, at the very least, good additions to an already strong side. It could be argued however, that they are not all necessarily better than the players they’ve replaced in the starting line up.
Maxi and Kuyt were Liverpool’s two leading goal scorers last season, yet both had largely been replaced by the new recruits before the game at Stamford Bridge.
Maxi vs Downing
When Maxi plays on the left hand side you can expect intelligent movement and a respect for possession, as well as cutting in with late, intelligent runs when the ball is played in from the opposite wing. He’s not a flair type player but his style is effective and a big plus in his game is the great understanding he has with Suarez and Kuyt in particular.
Maxi also appears to be somewhat of a lucky charm for the Reds as his OptaJoe statistic shows: Liverpool have won all seven previous PL games in which Maxi Rodriguez has scored.
When Downing plays on the left, he tends to hug the touchline rather than cut inside, but still manages to give defenders a hard time with his pace and his effective rather than flashy skill set.
The biggest part of his game are his crosses. Downing consistently puts in a large number of crosses per game and so far this season has made 55 in the Premier league, much more than any of Liverpool’s other players. He’s also created 24 shooting chances so far.
Unfortunately, neither statistic has contributed to a single completed assist, and he has yet to open his account for the Reds in 13 appearances this season. Maxi on the other hand has scored two goals in just five appearances.
There’s no question that Downing has been unlucky, as a few of his chance creation stats should have been converted into assists, and he’s hit the woodwork or been denied by the keeper on a number of occasions, but there is also the point that his style of play and the type of chances he creates are harder to convert than Maxi’s simple yet effective game.
In this position Liverpool have two different types of players and both are good enough to warrant a start, and certainly a rotation policy between the two would see Liverpool always fielding a strong player in this position, but for me, Maxi’s understanding with Suarez and Kuyt, and his knack for arriving late in the penalty box to finish off a move are invaluable, particularly against the top sides.
Winner = Maxi
Dirk Kuyt vs Jordan Henderson
When Jordan Henderson came on against Chelsea he looked sharp, beating two Chelsea players with pace and skill, before whipping in a cross to Downing, who teed up Kuyt nicely, only for the Dutchman to miss the target. He also produced a stunning save from Manchester United’s keeper David De Gea from a dipping volley, reminiscent of the Steven Gerrard of old, only a few weeks ago.
Yes, Henderson has looked very good on occasions, but that is precisely the issue. His form has been largely inconsistent and those flashes of brilliance have only come amidst long stretches of anonymity. He also appears to be a much more effective player when coming off the bench, and for now and for me, that’s precisely what he should continue to do.
Dirk Kuyt has been a regular for Holland and for Liverpool (under three managers it should be noted) for quite some time now. A lot of fans don’t quite get it, he doesn’t have especially good ball control, pace or dribbling ability, so they wonder why he’s in the team.
He has now been somewhat relegated to the bench in Dalglish’s new look side. What he does bring to the table is tireless energy, putting more than his fair share of defensive work in and as a result protects his fullback from two on one situations.
He was also Liverpool’s highest scorer last season with 14 goals in all competitions, bagging 7 assists along the way. He too, like Maxi, has a real understanding with Suarez. When those three play together, it can be beautiful to watch when it clicks, as we saw many times last season.
I’m realistic, and I realize that Kuyt at 31 can’t continue to play at the highest level forever (although sometimes it seems like it) but for now he offers more of an all round game to the Reds, especially in the big games. Henderson is definitely one for the future, though.
Winner = Kuyt(for now)
Andy Carroll vs Craig Bellamy
Andy Carroll has definitely improved this season but he’s still not at the level he needs to be at to warrant starting him every week. No matter what way you look at it, five goals in 22 games is not a good return for a striker, regardless of their price tag (although for that price you would expect more).
It’s noticeable that when he plays, Liverpool’s front four are far less fluid, and the passing can be awkward at times. Of all the players in question today he arguably has the worst understanding with Suarez.
It appears too, that Dalglish doesn’t trust him in the big games, as he didn’t start against Man United or Chelsea. Bellamy on the other hand has already got two goals and an assist, in six games in all competitions for the Reds. The way Suarez and Bellamy have played together this season would have anyone who didn’t know better thinking they’ve been playing together for years.
Like Kuyt, you can’t expect Bellamy to play on forever, especially with his injury record, but for now he is the best option to partner Suarez up top. When he’s not match fit, Kuyt would be a better partner with Henderson moving to the right.
Winner = Bellamy
Against Chelsea, Kenny Dalglish fielded his supposed second-string attacking line-up, leaving more than £70 million worth of players on the bench, and replacing them with two players who came to the club on free-transfers and one who cost £9 million.
Most fans of other clubs would have been pulling their hair out that a manager would be playing his second string side against Chelsea. But if like me, you saw what this second string front four was capable of last season (just swap Meireles with Bellamy) and were left feeling a bit flat by a so far inconsistent start this season, you would have been excited when you saw the starting line-up.
Sure enough, the players vindicated the decision to start them by putting in a good performance and returning to the winning ways that saw them climb up the Premier League table last season.
Of course, all this begs the question of whether or not Liverpool’s supposed second choice attacking quartet is in fact better then their first choice?
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