Gerrard and Torres out: How will Liverpool adapt?

Ryan Babel must deliver for Liverpool Saturday; Photo by Tom Parl

Ryan Babel must deliver for Liverpool Saturday; Photo by Tom Parl

Still suffering from the USA – Costa Rica hangover, it’s hard now to turn our attention back to league play. Injuries sustained on international duty (for the US too) are the dominant storyline heading into a big weekend of fixtures in England. Man U are without Wayne Rooney, which could lead to some trouble against Bolton. But by far the biggest injury news is that both Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres suffered groin injuries and will miss Liverpool’s trip to Sunderland. Much of the focus will be on how Liverpool’s attack fares without those two, but this game will be more about Liverpool’s defense and keeping the Black Cats off the score sheet.

Let’s be frank, any team would struggle if its two best players don’t play. But no other genuine Premier League title contender relies on its star duo more than Liverpool. Manager Rafa Benitez’s major failure during the summer transfer window was not to bring in cover for Torres. It was painfully obvious that Liverpool needed to upgrade its second choice striker as Torres has always been prone to niggling injuries and has been taxed due to major international tournaments each of the last two summers. Torres was bound to spend some time in the training room – and this groin injury doesn’t seem too serious and Liverpool fans should count themselves lucky.

But we’re more than two months away from the opportunity to bring in any new players, so Liverpool will have to adapt and get ready to face a Sunderland side that sit eighth in the table and should have beat Man U at Old Trafford in the last game were it not for an own goal in stoppage time. The Black Cats have a fairly formidable duo of their own, with Darren Bent (7 league goals) and Kenwyne Jones (5), and are averaging three goals a game at home so far this season.

Starting up front, it’s about time Ryan Babel got to put his feet where his mouth is – and I don’t mean George W. Bush style. Babel has been agitating for more playing time ahead of the World Cup so he can make the Dutch squad. Of the other options as direct replacements for Torres—Dirk Kuyt, Andriy Voronin, and David N’gog—Babel is the most natural and dangerous goal scorer. He also has the striker’s mentality of only thinking about scoring goals, which has often got him in the doghouse with Benitez for not tracking back or playing enough defense. Well, put him up front on his own and see if he really deserves to be on the pitch more.

Using Babel as the direct replacement for Torres instead of Kuyt also allows for the least amount of change along the rest of the front line. Gerrard had been playing in Alonso’s deep-lying midfield role earlier this season, and either Kuyt or Yossi Benayoun has taken the central spot just behind Torres. With Babel up front, that could continue, and with Albert Riera on the left, that front three remains in tact. And it seems very likely that Javier Mascherano and Lucas will pair in the central midfield.

The big change I would like to see is to bring Daniel Agger in for Emiliano Insua at left back, adding more height to the backline as it battles Jones and Bent. Keep Martin Skrtel and Jamie Carragher in the center and Glen Johnson at right back. Agger played 90 minutes in both of Denmark’s qualifying games during the break and should be ready for game action. He is Liverpool’s best passer from defense, which could kick start the offense from deep and make up for some poor passing from the central midfield tandem. Agger is also left footed and could slot easily into the left back spot. I’ve been very happy with Insua’s play so far this year, I just think our defense would do well to have another tall player who could battle Jones and Bent.

So my lineup would look like this:

Babel

Riera – Kuyt – Benayoun

Lucas – Maschareno

Agger – Skrtel – Carragher – Johnson

Reina

With Man U just around the corner, Liverpool need to get back to winning ways immediately. The goal’s will have to come from Babel et al. Let’s hope the defense can keep Sunderland off the score sheet.

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3 Responses

  1. I think you make a fair case for babel starting up front, I’d like him to get his chance today and see if he can trouble the Black cats with his pace but I have feeling Rafa could go with Kuyt up front and Voronin behind.

    Looking at your line up I would say it looks good but I’d stick with Insua at left back. If Agger was to be brought back I would prefer him in the centre.

    Big test for the Lucas – Masch combo in midfield. I’m just hoping Liverpool can win by the odd goal.

  2. Chris –

    Just saw the early lineup report – looks like Rafa’s left Mascherano out and gone with Spearing. Good test for the young man and we’ll see what the Academy has got.

    Agger’s in the backline with both Skrtel and Carragher, we’ll see where they line up.

    Riera has been dropped and looks like Aurelio will replace him. Babel, Kuyt, and Benayoun also in the front line, but I think you’re right that Rafa probably has put Kuyt up front.

    Go Reds.

    Ken

  3. Well, all that talk about tactics and a beach ball helps to decide the match! Feel sorry for Reina who has been superb all season. Anyway, on to the next match…

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