Should Javier Mascherano have left for Barcelona in the summer? That will be the question on the lips of some Liverpool fans after the Argentinean captain’s apparent sub-par performances this season. At times this season the Liverpool midfielder has looked like he has wanted to be somewhere else, especially in games of lesser importance and against lower ranked opposition.
His performances in big matches have however I believe can hardly be faulted, despite being sent off against United last month; his desire to win was plain to all to see. Along with Lucas that day, they prevented United from playing at all and did not allow either Michael Carrick or Paul Scholes to move the ball as they pleased. His sending off was the direct consequence of a desire to block the goalkeeper’s kick in the last minute of the game, not a man who looks like he wants to be somewhere else. The same could be said when Liverpool played Debrecen a couple of nights ago. He threw his body around, blocking Debrecen passing moves and winning balls to set up Liverpool attacks.
The commitment he has shown in these matches especially shows he still has the desire, but is this his competitive streak seeping through rather than a commitment to live and die by the cause for both Benitez and Liverpool? Perhaps time will tell on this issue, after the sale of Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid in the summer, there was a real worry that Barcelona would come calling for Mascherano too. Losing two important midfielders in the space of a few weeks after playing such a crucial role in pursuit of the title the season before, would have been too much for a Liverpool side to handle. Managing Director Christian Purslow and Rafa Benitez both resolved to keep the player and have been initially successful in their endeavours. Purslow said of the Mascherano situation recently:
He [Mascherano] is the leading central holding player in world football. It is inevitable that big clubs will covet players of that quality. We also had another central midfielder [Xabi Alonso[ coveted by a world team in the summer who left us. We sat down with Javier at the time and he reasserted his total commitment to Liverpool. He has had a lot going on with the Argentina [World Cup] qualification situation which is now behind him. He is a hugely important player for us.
The real question is Mascherano really focused on Liverpool? There have been constant rumours that his wife wants to move away from England to warmer climbs in Spain to bring up their new family. It is said that Barcelona still wants the midfield enforcer but they baulked at the asking price Benitez set last summer of £40m. It is said that Barcelona have other priorities both in the January transfer window and during the summer, focusing both on Robinho and Cesc Fabregas, so there is a chance that a move that seemed desirable for the Argentine might not materialise.
There are some Liverpool fans that I have talked to in recent weeks that would willingly let Mascherano go for £30m so as to boost Benitez’s transfer funds to buy more “useful” players in either attack or defence, but I am not so sure. Like all defensive midfielders, Mascherano does a lot of unseen work, his positioning and anticipation is fantastic to break up attacks, his timing of tackles is nearly always spot on and he can protect the back four from being exposed from dangerous midfield play. No doubt, some of this play has diminished this season, only last week against Manchester City with Dan Agger off the field, and covering at right back, Mascherano completely failed to mark Gareth Barry allowing him in for an easy header. Maybe last season with greater commitment Mascherano would have done a bit more. Maybe I am just nitpicking, but until speculation has gone away and we see excellent performances in every game once more, they will always be that suspicion that his mind is somewhere else.