LFC Talk

Opinion: Can Riera end width shortage? by lfctalk
August 30, 2008, 15:30
Filed under: Opinion

Albert Riera is set to complete his long-protracted move to Anfield this weekend from Spanish club Espanyol and many will be hoping that the former Manchester City winger will be the solution to a problem that has dominated our early season form.

After the signing of Irish striker Robbie Keane the Reds have reverted to a 4-4-2 formation for each of the four fixtures so far this season. But the £19m man has failed to make an impact and part of that can be attributed to the woeful lack of quality coming from the flanks.

Yossi Benayoun and Dirk Kuyt have started every game on the wings so far this season. The Israel captain has featured on the left with the Dutchman on the right. Neither has provided a single cross of note in any of the four games so far this season and the service into the front pair has been practically non-existent…and it cannot continue. In fairness to both these players, neither is a natural winger but both have an uncanny knack of making runs into the centre of the pitch and causing congestion and a formation so narrow that many attacks are stifled by a total lack of space and service.

And all the while these two are congesting the central areas, neither full-back has taken the opportunity to occupy the space in the wide areas opened up by the central traffic. Personally, I am not encouraged by the start made by Andrea Dossena but am giving him the time you have to with a new signing. But I am not so easy on Spaniard Alvaro Arbeloa, who has been here much longer and has failed to match the early form he showed, notably against Barcelona in the Champions League where he kept the best winger around quiet in Lionel Messi. Arbeloa was reported to be homesick earlier this Summer and was rumoured to be hankering after a move back to La Liga with Sevilla lurking with a potential bid. I would have gladly taken that because I don’t feel he is our best option at right-back and still prefer Irishman Steve Finnan despite his age and injury concerns.

At the end of last season the wide areas were identified by many as our problem and a reason we didn’t manage to make a sustainable title challenge last season. Rafael Benitez was quoted as admitting as much before the melee of the transfer window began. John Arne Riise was sold after his worst season at the club, by a distance, and was quickly replaced by unknown Italian Andrea Dossena after Swiss right-back Philipp Degen had been secured on a Bosman free from Borussia Dortmund. Despite Dossena’s £8m pricetag and glowing reference from Fabio Capello, Kopites cannot be blamed for being cautious over the left-back’s signing. He’s come with a reputation for collecting bookings, dismissals and suspensions in Serie A and was reported to be defensively fragile despite his bulky physique. Also having only one national cap, which came in a friendly last season, at the age of 26 wasn’t the most encouraging statistic to arrive with, letalone being an unknown quantity. But after seeing the rest of the top four glean much success from full-backs with an attacking verve (Cole, Clichy and Evra) many were hoping that Benitez had secured a similar figure for the club. The early signs are not encouraging me that we’ve managed to match these quality players, but these are early days for him.

The Robbie Keane signing has excited and confused in equal measure. After seeming desperate to sign Gareth Barry, so much so that Rafa was happy to try and sell Xabi Alonso, the Spanish manager went out and spent nearly £20m on a striker that many will feel we did not need. A 4-2-3-1 formation was a revelation last season and went a long way to salvaging a dire first-half to the season for the Reds. Gerrard and Torres had struck an understanding that only world-class talents can, and the Dutch pair of Babel and Kuyt were operating well from the flanks, chipping in with some key goals. And despite combining to see off the threat of Liege this week, neither has flourished in a 4-4-2 formation. Babel, away at the Olympics until recently, is not a defensively strong player and benefitted from the addition of an extra defensive midfielder in last season’s formation. While Kuyt, who can defend all day long, benefitted from being in a more advanced attacking position which saw him maintain a wider position than the current 4-4-2 has seen. All this confusion over positions and roles in the side has seen Keane look woeful in his opening appearances at the club. The frontman hasn’t come close to scoring, and I cannot even remember a single decent chance for him so far, despite looking absolutely desperate to open his account for his boyhood club. I would say that is a major problem for him – he looks like he is trying far too hard to impress. Once he gets his first I am sure he will settle, but it’s not likely to come any time soon with the confusion in the side. Were he getting any kind of decent service or support from the ‘wingers’ then perhaps he would have had more luck in terms of chances and goals, but both Benayoun and Kuyt have looked desperate themselves – desperate to get as central as possible and nullify any space in the wide areas.

Personally, I would have spent the £20m odd that Keane cost on a quality winger or two. Another Spanish winger that we’ve previously been linked with is Valencia’s Joaquin, who has been linked with Blackburn this Summer. I would have thought that the right-winger would be available at around the £10m and would represent a much better proposition than Riera. He has plenty of international and European experience and showed so much potential as a young player that I think he is well worth a punt this Summer and has been for years now.

But most of all…I would have done nothing to jeopardise the 4-2-3-1 formation that bought us so much improvement last season.


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