Liverpool will begin their pre-season preparations with a friendly against Chinese outfit Guangdong Sunray Cave. The match, which marks Kenny Dalglish’s first non-competitive fixture since returning to the managerial hotseat earlier this year, will provide the Scot and his side with their first opportunity to answer several burning questions.
For the first campaign in living memory, Liverpool will seemingly enter a season without most fans and pundits fully aware of what the side’s strongest line-up and formation is. For the best part of two-and-a-half seasons between mid-2007/08 and the end of 2009/10, former Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez religiously employed a distinct and identifiable 4-2-3-1 shape. This formation, of course, was engineered to extract the best from the talismanic duo of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres.
Gerrard, who was often accused of lacking the discipline to operate effectively in a conventional central midfield berth, thrived with the diminution of defensive duties and was allowed to roam in the part of the pitch in which he is most dangerous. Torres, a player who seems ill at ease with the idea of playing alongside another out-and-out centre forward, was deployed as a lone striker, and benefitted immensely from the movement and precision of Gerrard.
Whilst the use of this system was often devastatingly effective, the absence of the system’s key ingredients, be it Gerrard, Torres, or midfield fulcrum Xabi Alonso, frequently left the side desperately short. Dirk Kuyt often deputised admirably as centre-forward during Torres’ many absences, but he lacked the acceleration and clinical finishing ability to thrive as the side’s spearhead. Similarly, many attributed Gerrard’s mediocre campaign in 2009/10 to the way in which he directly suffered as a result of Alonso’s exit.