Sunday 19 November 2017

Meireles to add energy as Hodgson rewires side

Portugal star to bring new dimension, says Rory Smith

BY THE hyper-inflated standards of football's age of excess, the £10.7m Liverpool will pay FC Porto for Raul Meireles is barely enough to cause a ripple in the transfer market. Its impact, though, could be seismic.

Three months after Rafael Benitez was deposed from his Anfield throne, Roy Hodgson's template for Liverpool's renaissance is becoming apparent.

To assert that Meireles, a Portuguese international of considerable repute and, at 27, in the prime of his career, will be a success in the Premier League is to indulge in star-gazing, but his arrival does at least indicate that Hodgson has identified the weakness which ultimately cost Liverpool their status among Europe's elite, and his predecessor his job.

What Liverpool have lacked in recent years -- even when the midfield axis of Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso was at its destructive, creative best -- is dynamism. That is exactly what Meireles provides. His role has been to prompt attacks, not with the range of passing that makes Alonso such a rare gem, but with his relentless energy, his movement, his thrust.

It is too soon, of course, to suggest that a pairing of Meireles and Christian Poulsen, another new arrival, are suitable heirs for the players so long proclaimed by the Kop as the best midfield in the world. As a duo they possess the characteristics to thrive.

Whereas Mascherano is an attack dog of a midfield player, Poulsen exists to guard the back four and pick off danger. The Dane will control Liverpool's shape, switch the angles of attack. He will play in the horizontal. Meireles adds a vertical element.

Despite the failed flirtation with 4-4-2 at Eastlands last Monday night, Hodgson seems likely to employ his two signings in a 4-2-3-1. Steven Gerrard will play behind Fernando Torres, with the bustle of Dirk Kuyt or the finesse of Maxi Rodriguez on the right. Joe Cole will be stationed on the left, but it is an article of faith with Hodgson to allow his wide players a degree of fluidity.

Yet while the capture of Meireles -- and Paul Konchesky, who arrived on Merseyside for a medical yesterday ahead of a £3m move -- provide an answer to where Liverpool are heading on the pitch, they serve as a reminder that only questions remain off it.

As the transfer window draws to a close, is the inquiry as to why Hodgson's revolution did not begin until the final weekend of August. He was supposed to have £12m to spend upon taking the job, plus whatever is raised through sales, currently £16m. When Mascherano signs for the Barcelona, the total sum available to Hodgson should stand at £50m. Yet the captures of Meireles and Konchesky take the club's outlay this summer to £24.2m. As always at Liverpool, something does not add up.

Since Benitez sold Robbie Keane to Tottenham for £16m in January 2009, Liverpool have recouped £80m. Mascherano's departure will take that figure to £102m. The Spaniard and Hodgson between them have spent just £59.8m, when Meireles and Konchesky are factored in, in the last 18 months.

At a club where Tom Hicks, the co-owner, has asserted that the "player fund" is sacrosanct, Hodgson should have £40m burning a hole in his pocket. It is safe to assume he does not. For all that Meireles represents a coup for Liverpool, a putsch is required before Hodgson's renaissance can truly take hold.

Sunday Independent

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