Roy Hodgson wasted no time in replacing Javier Mascherano over the weekend, bringing Portuguese midfielder Raul Meireles to the club from Porto in an £11.5 million deal. The 27 year old Meireles is an experienced campaigner who is coming in to the prime of his career, but can he replace Mascherano? The Argentine midfielder was a big player for Liverpool during his time at Anfield, but he certainly had his drawbacks and Liverpool might just have got a good deal this summer.
It remains to be seen where exactly in the midfield Meireles will play, because he is not an out and out defensive midfielder like Mascherano is. Raul Meireles is perhaps more comparable to a player like Michael Carrick, who whilst being good defensively, is also capable of passing and creative play. Meireles himself has stated he is not Mascherano, he is quoted in the Daily Express
“I am Meireles and not Mascherano and that will be clear to the fans. I hope one day the Liverpool fans will remember me for being successful.”
Meireles appears confident, and whilst he obviously believes he is a different player to Mascherano, comparisons will be inevitable this season. So far at least Roy Hodgson appears to be sticking to a 4-5-1 formation that Liverpool have used for the past few seasons, and Meireles and Gerrard are likely to be the first choice pairing in central midfield, with Joe Cole operating in front of them when he returns. Gerrard will not be staying back, so Meireles will have defensive duties and it will be interesting to see how he performs them in a league that is new to him.
Javier Mascherano became one of the worlds best exponents of the defensive midfield position during his time at Liverpool, but in the absence of Xabi Alonso last season Liverpool’s midfield desperately lacked creativity as Mascherano’s limitations became clear. The Argentina captain is undoubtedly good defensively, he is an excellent tackler, has superb positional sense and has a great engine. His passing abilities are limited though and he scored a paltry two goals in his entire Liverpool career. Mascherano is also an incredibly hot-headed player and his ability to get sent off is second to none, one particularly ridiculous dismissal was in a game against arch-rivals Manchester United in March 2008, when Mascherano persistently berated the referee and then was stunned to finally be shown a second yellow.
What Liverpool’s central midfield needed the most this season was some creativity, and Meireles may well be able to fill that gap. Whilst he might not be as strong defensively as Mascherano, he certainly offers more going forward and with Milan Jovanovic and Dirk Kuyt also offering defensive cover from the midfield, Liverpool shouldn’t be lacking in the defensive aspect of midfield. Meireles has forced himself into the Portugal team in recent years, and started in all of his country’s games at the World Cup, and this is no mean feat when one considers the quality Portugal have in midfield.
There has not been the explosion of joy on Merseyside that there was when Joe Cole signed, but the transfer of Raul Meireles may prove to be just as important for Liverpool this season. Hodgson is a canny and experienced manager, and he will have followed Meireles for some time when it became apparent that Mascherano no longer had a future at the club. As Meireles states he is not the same player as Mascherano, but he might just offer some different qualities that will improve Liverpool’s fortunes this season.