Charlie Adam is a player that divides opinion. Some see him as offering a genuine threat in the final third and in possession of a wonderful range of passing; his detractors often state that he lacks composure against top-class opposition and that he can be too prone to Hollywood balls. As is often with cases like this, the truth lies somewhere in between. What is without question though, is the pivotal role which Adam has in this new-look Liverpool side, which brings me to the point, if you take Adam out of the side, does it affect the balance of this Liverpool side? And is it for the better?
It’s my contention that Liverpool operate best in a 4-3-3 formation with Suarez as the focal point of the team’s attack. It allows a fluidity to their attacking play and it draws the best out of those around the Uruguayan. However, trying to pin down Dalglish to a consistent formation is like trying to nail jelly to a wall.
So far, Adam has started in every single league game this season for his new club and has a respectable three assists and one goal from his first six league outings. Last season at Blackpool, Adam struck twelve times and created nine goals in what was ultimately an exciting but unfulfilled campaign. It’s obvious what he brings to the party – the much-coveted and often elusive ‘end product’.
The Scotland international was deployed in a two-man midfield alongside Lucas Leiva against Spurs, but during his stay at Anfield thus far, he’s predominantly been used as one part of a triumvarite. To put it simply, the theory behind the Lucas/Adam axis is that the Brazilian holding man does the tackling, and that Adam does the distributing. So far, the results have been mixed
It’s worked when this Liverpool side has been on top, but when they’ve been put under pressure, as they were in the game at White Hart Lane, Adam’s lack of pace has been found wanting and he has been guilty of diving in far too easily on occasion.
When Dalglish has opted for a midfield three, Jordan Henderson has come in alongside both Adam and Lucas and the balance struck has certainly been a lot better. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the line-up that Blackpool went for last season with Adam in the side. Lucas doubles as David Vaughan and Henderson as either Elliot Grandin or Keith Southern.
Playing in a three-man midfield, as Liverpool have done at times this season, is what suits Adam best. It grants him more freedom, time on the ball and less of a disciplined role in tracking back. But does this then mean that Adam needs a degree of protection in order to get the best out him?
A fact that is often glossed over, though, is just how poor Adam’s disciplinary record has been since his stay in the top flight. His record of 13 yellow cards and 1 red card since the start of last season is second only to Newcastle’s Cheik Tiote. He finished last season with the third-most fouls in the league, behind just Tiote and Kevin Davies. He’s already joint-second this season, alongside who I hear you cry? That’s right, you guessed it, our man in the north, Cheik Tiote.
In short, his dismissal against Spurs last weekend had been an accident waiting to happen for quite some time now. His lack of mobility tends to mean that he struggles in a two-man midfield and he was brutally exposed by Spurs high-tempo style of play. This further begs the question, can Liverpool afford to cater their side’s style of play just to tailor to Adam’s needs? And does he represent something of a passenger at times?
It’s worth noting that Adam’s two finest performances in a Liverpool shirt so far have been against a ten-man Arsenal side and when Liverpool were 3-0 up against Bolton and cruising. Does he have the ability to step it up against a finer class of opposition when the going gets tough? It’s fair to say that the jury is still out on that one.
Another potential spanner in the works is this long-awaited return of Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard from a serious groin injury. Gerrard and Suarez have the potential to dovetail brilliantly in the future and the role he takes up in the side on his return could have an effect on Adam’s. in the short-term
Gerrard’s return opens up all number of possibilities, though. He could step into a role just behind Suarez or Andy Carroll up top. He could drop into a midfield three alongside Adam and Lucas, with Henderson making way, or he could play out wide.
Dropping Adam from the side, in theory, affects the balance of the side. His balls from deep are a great way of relieving pressure and the presence of his long-range passing has been seen to bring out the best in both Suarez and Stewart Downing. It makes Liverpool a more expansive, open outfit and as a result, a more attacking and attractive proposition.
The side have lacked a player capable of putting the ball on a sixpence since the departure of Xabi Alonso, and while Adam is nowhere near being in the Spaniard’s class, the point remains. However, if you were to drop Adam from the side upon Gerrard’s return, it frees an extra space up top, with Dirk Kuyt, Craig Bellamy or Andy Carroll the likely benefactors of the England vice-captain’s return to central midfield.
Last season, Dalglish’s Liverpool side built their impressive run of form upon the backbone of Lucas and Jay Spearing. So far, Spearing has struggled to force his way into the starting eleven this season ahead of the glamorous acquisitions of Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam. He may be as ugly as sin and perform an unglamorous role, but Spearing was pivotal last term and a recall may add balance to a platform in danger of tilting over in favour of attacking intent.
Charlie Adam looks to be a decent signing at £7m, but whether he should be so assured of a guaranteed role in Liverpool’s starting eleven remains in question. The balance of the side looks a lot better with Gerrard and Spearing in place of Adam and Henderson.
The knock-on effect, though, could be a less extravagant style of play. To stick or twist are the options available to Dalglish at present, but for me, Adam’s place shouldn’t be taken for granted. He certainly lacks both the flexibility and adaptability to perform at his best in different systems and formations. His presence may be a necessity for the time being, but whether it does so in the future remains to be seen. As a rotated squad player, Adam has a lot to offer, but as a regular starter, Adam may be causing more damage to the team’s shape than he’s worth in the long-run.
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