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Why Fabio Borini Should Be Ahead of Rickie Lambert in Liverpool Pecking Order

For their last two fixtures, Liverpool have turned to another Italian striker for further support up front in the second half. Not Mario Balotelli, but ex-Anfield outcast Fabio Borini.

It’s a considerable turnaround in fortunes for Borini, given that he found himself in limbo after rejecting a last-minute summer move to Queens Park Rangers, according to Chris Bascombe of theTelegraph. Liverpool’s earlier pursuit of Loic Remy and subsequent signing of Balotelli suggested that Brendan Rodgers had other options in mind ahead of Borini, who looked to be on his way out of Anfield.

Yet circumstances have fallen into place for Borini to perhaps salvage a career for himself at Liverpool. Daniel Sturridge’s injury, sustained while on international duty with Roy Hodgson’s England, has forced Rodgers to rely on his bench options.

Liverpool’s first signing of the summer may have been Rickie Lambert, but the current Reds setup almost demands that Borini should move ahead of the local Liverpudlian in the pecking order—and crucially, Rodgers seems to think so as well.


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Rickie Lambert, a Poor Man’s Mario Balotelli

When Lambert was recruited from Southampton, where he enjoyed a stellar career and became an England international in the process, it was clear that Rodgers was looking for something different to the Luis Suarez-Daniel Sturridge pairing that was so successful last season.

Lambert brought an interesting combination of strength, aerial prowess, composure and technique to the forward line that the Reds perhaps didn’t have last season, and he would’ve provided a useful outlet who could turn out to be one of the bargains of the offseason.

Rodgers’ highly public pursuit of Loic Remy after Suarez’s departure for Barcelona suggested that he was on the lookout for a striker with pace and direct running who would be useful on the break and alongside Sturridge, and who would further strengthen Lambert’s status in the squad as the go-to bench option up front.

Yet his subsequent chasing of Wilfried Bony—similar in style and mould to Lambert—and the eventual signing of Mario Balotelli has since moved him down the pecking order, as Rodgers now has a better and more established version of Lambert at his disposal.

Sure, Lambert made a difference when he came off the bench in the late win against Southampton on the opening day of the season, but with Balotelli firmly instilled as first-choice at Anfield, things don’t look too good for Lambert.


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Fabio Borini’s Strengths as a Sub

And what Fabio Borini brings to the table makes him an ideal option to change things up—not just from Liverpool’s perspective, but against tired legs in the opposition when he comes off the bench in the second half.

Borini’s effervescent running—not many people can realistically argue against his work rate—and excellent attacking positioning makes him a nuisance to deal with from a defensive point of view. In this sense, his effect may be compared to Southampton’s Shane Long, who also doesn’t boast a prolific scoring record but is prized for his contributions to the team up front.

Indeed, what Liverpool have been missing this season is Suarez’s immense work rate from a deeper-lying forward position, as Rodgers looks to continue instilling a similar work ethic into new recruit Balotelli, now tasked with that same role, according to David Maddock of the Mirror.

Borini’s good grasp of positioning and ability to get into the game with his running, regardless of his personal form, means that he gets into good positions to threaten the opposition goal—see his header against Ludogorets that forced goalkeeper Milan Borjan into a fine save not long after he came off the bench—and has the legs to stretch the play and occupy defenders.

Contrast this with Lambert’s more languid style of play: Speed has never been a hallmark of his game, while he relies more on a strong understanding of space to create and finish, rather than being a nuisance to defenders, which is now essential to Rodgers’ blueprint at Anfield.

This makes it hard for Lambert to influence the game just by being on the pitch, especially after coming on as a substitute and requiring time to settle into the rhythm of the game.


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Two up Top Is Now Indisputably Liverpool’s Best System

A summer of attacking midfield signings in Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic to add to an already strong collection including Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling hinted at Rodgers’ interest in potentially exploring a 4-2-3-1 system at Anfield, which he has done in the first few weeks of the season.

Yet this was perhaps also an enforced switch, with Sturridge’s injury rendering Balotelli as their only fit senior striker.

Unfortunately, Balotelli still has quite a way to go before he can match Suarez’s effect on the team from a work ethic standpoint, while the lack of penetration ahead of the midfield area has unsurprisingly seen a downturn in Coutinho’s form.

Perhaps Coutinho as the No. 10 works best when there is a Sturridge alongside Balotelli to stretch defences for the Brazilian playmaker to find space to launch his game-changing passes—and perhaps Sterling isn’t quite as cut out to play that off-the-shoulder striker furthest forward as he is as behind a front two.

Lambert’s similarity—or rather lack of a real differentiation in playing style—to Balotelli means that he is much less ideal as a partner for Balotelli rather than a direct replacement. What Balotelli and his team-mates are now crying out for is movement and running up front.

Step up Fabio Borini, who has it in his locker to make a difference. He did enough on loan at Sunderland last season for them to want to take him on a permanent basis this year but has decided to fight for his place at Liverpool.

Now is his chance to prove that he deserves to not only move ahead of Rickie Lambert in the pecking order at Anfield, but to push Rodgers’ first-choice front two for a starting place.


This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.


The Case for 4-2-3-1

Here’s a list of words that can be used to describe Liverpool at various points this season: thrilling, depressing, frustrating, swashbuckling, infuriating.

In fact, the list is almost as colorful as the number of different formations employed by Kenny Dalglish and his management team.

Since Dalglish took over in January last year, we’ve seen a variety of tactical approaches to games: 4-4-2, 3-5-2, 4-1-4-1, 4-2-3-1, and so on.

While having different options can be beneficial over the course of a season, we have yet to see Dalglish fixate on a first-choice starting 11 and tactical plan.

It’s been a tumultuous year and two months for the Liverpool manager in terms of personnel, to say the least, with Andy Carroll, Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez and Lucas Leiva all out of the side at various points during Dalglish’s tenure.

Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam and Jordan Henderson have also underwhelmed since arriving at Anfield in the summer, and the rises and falls in their form have meant that they haven’t had a chance to fully cement a place in the first team yet.

Add in the frustratingly profligate performances up front and the unfortunate knee situation that prevents Craig Bellamy from playing week in, week out, and we have a Liverpool team that has yet to fully gel on the pitch.

After all, Suarez, Carroll and Gerrard only got their first ever start together earlier in 2012.

But provided that this summer’s transfer business is at least as fruitful as last season’s—the only signings last summer that have truly caught the eye have been Jose Enrique and Bellamy—Dalglish will have a bigger and better squad to work with in 2012-2013.

The back five—Pepe Reina, Glen Johnson, Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger and Jose Enrique—basically picks itself, and the considerable strength in reserve means that any additions to the defensive ranks would merely bolster its impressive defensive record.

It’s the midfield and forward lines that need a system suited for Liverpool’s multi-faceted approach, and 4-2-3-1 is exactly that.

Assuming no further additions to the squad, let’s explore how the current team would work best on paper in this formation.

When Lucas returns from injury, he should slot straight back into the defensive midfield position he has made his own. Alongside him would be Charlie Adam, who seems most comfortable in a deep playmaker role akin to that of Xabi Alonso. He might have had an inconsistent season so far, but he remains Liverpool’s most direct threat with long and diagonal passes, and his attacking tendencies would be a decent foil to Lucas’ all-action approach.

There is an alternative to Adam as Liverpool’s regista, of course—forgotten man Alberto Aquilani. Contrary to Dalglish’s assertions that Aquilani is most comfortable in Gerrard’s second striker position, he is equally impressive as a deep-lying midfielder, as his cameos during his only season at Anfield showed. He represents a classy option in the middle and would arguably be a more important component in the first team than Adam—but the key is whether or not Aquilani still has the appetite to succeed in English football.

With Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson also capable of filling in, that’s the “2” solved.

Before we move to the “3” in support of the lone striker, let’s first look at the candidates up front, and there is only one serious candidate within the current squad: Andy Carroll.

It’s been an up-and-down season for Carroll—more downs than ups—but he remains the best option to lead the line. Dirk Kuyt has taken his conversion to the right wing a bit too close to heart to excel as a lone striker, and Luis Suarez’s creativity and relative profligacy makes him a traditional support striker rather than an out-and-out forward.

While Carroll has disappointed in many of his performances, he has the strength, power and aerial ability to be an effective (and even prolific) targetman for the Reds. His shooting and pace, despite underwhelming this season, is underrated. He has all the elements to be one of the best attacking forces in the League, and he should be given the opportunity to spearhead the attack—again, in the context of the current squad. Of course, he also possesses the ability to create chances for the attacking trio behind him, which has been a criminally underused tactic this season.

Now onto the “3.”

Dalglish finds an overwhelming number of options for the three positions behind the lone striker, but the combination that might just work best is Craig Bellamy, Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard.

All three possesses creativity, work rate, pace and finishing ability, and we have seen on various occasions this season that they are capable of combining intricate passing plays—the crux of the much-espoused pass-and-move style.

Bellamy and Gerrard can cross too. Their wing play on the flanks would create ample space for Suarez to exploit down the middle and for an onrushing Charlie Adam or Alberto Aquilani, and they would be able to put in the kind of crosses that Carroll feasts on.

Simply put, this 4-2-3-1 lineup would be a perfect fit for a possession-heavy playing style that Liverpool have exhibited this season—and would also present a considerable threat on the counterattack.

Which should come as no surprise—after all, this was the system that Rafael Benitez tailored to perfection during his reign, and his counterattacking Reds were one of the most fearsome attacking combination during their peak.

That’s not to say that simply adopting a 4-2-3-1 system would shoot them up the league table next season—far from it.

There’s plenty left for the coaching team to do—not least the abhorrent finishing. Kenny Dalglish should strengthen his squad this summer to provide better quality competition for first-team places at Anfield, and to find a productive solution to their at-times scintillating build-up play this season.

But in the long term—if Kenny Dalglish stays on for the long term—there should be a more-or-less established first 11 and a strong bench to provide a game-changing spark if needed.

And in the long term, Liverpool can do no wrong by going with a 4-2-3-1.


Original article from the Bleacher Report