Liverpool’s much publicised demise from the top four has been partly accredited to Rafa Benitez’s decision to sell wantaway midfielder Xabi Alonso in the summer of 2009, a player The Reds have missed over the last couple of seasons, and who’s influence has yet to be replaced. However with the emergence of Raul Meireles this season, although the Portuguese midfield man is a different type of player to Alonso, Liverpool have a bit of extra drive, quality and bite in the centre of the park that will benefit their ambitions to make it back into Champions League qualification contention next season.
Xabi Alonso’s talents have been much praised both during his time at Anfield and since the realisation of his importance to Liverpool upon his departure, and this article does not need to go back over covered ground. Yes Alonso did much to facilitate Steven Gerrard with his precision passing and vision, which in turn allowed Fernando Torres to prosper, and Liverpool have lacked a good passer of the ball in defensive positions to supply their more attacking players since, with Lucas Leiva having Alonso’s boots to fill without success. However with the inclusion of Meireles in the Liverpool starting XI, their attacking style has somewhat changed.
The ex-Porto man offers a different threat to opponents than Alonso through his fearless attitude on the pitch and the box-to-box nature of his play. Meireles has adapted to the physical nature of English football well, and has a steel and combatitivness that has endeared him to the Kop, with the fans respecting and responding to the midfield man’s efforts and heart during ninety minutes. In buying foreign players there is always a risk that they will not match the physicality of their British opponents week to week, but Meireles has a good work ethic, is happy and eager to close his opposite number down and will put his foot into a tackle without being reckless. Add to this good positional play and a willingness to run from the first minute to the last; it is clear to see why Liverpool fans have taken him to their heart.
Meireles is not as good a passer of the ball as Xabi Alonso, few are. However the Portuguese has in part brought back the pass and move nature of the Liverpool midfield that dominated English football in boss Kenny Dalglish’s playing days, and Meireles is much more mobile than Alonso, winning possession, picking a pass (maybe not with the same vision as the Spaniard) and bursting forward looking for a return. This energy and enthusiasm is difficult to shackle if you are playing against it, and Meireles’s breaks forward will do much to create space for Steven Gerrard when he returns to fitness, and new strikers Suarez and Carroll will have better supply than Torres did pre-Meireles. With his willingness to get forward and box to box style of play, it is inevitable that Meireles will also contribute goals to the cause himself, and he has scored five goals in 25 league appearances this season, some of which have contributed to Liverpool’s revival under Dalglish.
With Dalglish now in charge and playing Meireles in the centre of the park rather than on the flank as Roy Hodgson did, the Portugal international is in prime position to take centre stage and be the lynchpin of a different attacking strategy for The Reds. He won’t bring back the 60 yard precision passes the Kop were used to when Xabi Alonso wore the red of Liverpool, but he will offer a never say die attitude and a short and dynamic passing game that opponents in the Premier League, and perhaps the Champions League in seasons to come, will struggle to live with.