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Maxi Rodríguez | The unluckiest man in Liverpool

Maxi Rodríguez

 Maxi, Maxi Rodríguez runs down the wing for me.

Well, not this season he doesn’t. The subject of one of the Kop’s favoured songs and the hero of the closing games of the last season, Maxi Rodríguez has played only 13 minutes in the Premier League in 2011/12. It seems hard to fathom for someone who seemed to be so integral to the way the ‘new’ Liverpool played as the 2010/11 campaign wound down, but just how has Maxi fallen so far from grace?

Having joined the club in January 2010, it is fair to say that Maxi didn’t immediately win the hearts of every Liverpool supporter. At the height of protest against the Hicks and Gillette regime, his arrival on a free transfer from Atlético Madrid was only heralded by a few as good business. As the team struggled in what was to be Rafa Benítez’s final season in charge, eventually falling short of Champions League qualification, so Maxi took time to settle in, but by the end of the campaign he had a pass completion rate of 82% and had created 21 chances (20 of which came from open play).

Under Roy Hodgson’s short tenure, Maxi was one of the few to impress. Perhaps alongside Lucas Leiva and Dirk Kuyt, Maxi’s tireless work ethic won him favour, and goals against Bolton, West Ham and Aston Villa showed his value. It was under Kenny Dalglish, and when playing alongside Luis Suárez, that he truly began to flourish, however.

Maxi is one of those players seemingly born to play ‘pass and move’ football. Comfortable and creative on the ball and with an intelligence of run off it that has a wonderful habit of creating space for his team mates. It’s unsurprising that Maxi began to work his way into Dalglish’s team, and he hits his height during a three game spell which saw him score seven goals and complete 89.33% of his passes.

It wasn’t just in those three games that Maxi impressed though. Whenever he was in the team the Reds seemed to play more fluidly, his linking of defence and attack and superb ball retention a big part of that. While last season his appearances generally came at the expense of Andy Carroll, whose fitness issues often made him a lumbering weight around the team’s neck, this campaign the Geordie has improved and impressed, and it would be Dutch Duracell Bunny Dirk Kuyt who would miss out.

Maxi’s problem, however, came when the club paid £18.5M for Stewart Downing. A direct rival for his position on the left of Dalglish’s 4-4-2, it would be fair to expect that a player who was chased so hard and who cost so much would be the favoured choice, and that meant that Maxi would be left kicking his heels.

One can understand why Downing was the man identified to fill that role as well. In the 2010/11 season he created 77 chances for his Aston Villa team mates, and though many of them came when he played on the right flank, his ability as a traditional winger had long been established. Simply put, when one looks at the statistics, Downing seems the better choice. In 2010/11 he created, on average, a chance every 43.99 minutes, and this season has trimmed that down to a chance every 42.35 minutes. Maxi, on the other hand, seems positively dull in comparison, with a chance every 58.37 minutes in 2009/10 and every 57.48 minutes in 2010/11. Given that a winger’s job, one could argue, is purely one of being a supply line, the Downing selection seems justified.

Liverpool under Kenny Dalglish in 2010/11

When one considers Liverpool’s record under Dalglish last season, both with and without Maxi in the side, it becomes less cut and dried. Dalglish was in charge for 18 league games, 10 of which saw Maxi start. In the 10 games in which Maxi started, the Reds’ win record was 70%, scoring an average of 2.4 goals per game and conceding just 0.8. In the eight in which he was either missing or began on the bench, the win record drops to just 37.5%, scoring just 1.38 goals per game but with a similar goals against record of 0.82 per game.

It seems ridiculous that a man who made such an impact on the side and fitted so perfectly into the way that the club play has been cast aside so easily, and even more so when one considers the formation that Liverpool are using. Although there are occasional adjustments, such as the back three that was used against both Chelsea and Stoke last season, by and large Dalglish’s Liverpool are set out in what is nominally a 4-4-2, but with the right players (such as Maxi) becomes a hybrid between that and a more modern 4-3-3. It is a system very close to how Liverpool played under Dalglish in his first stint in charge, and can be quite happily said to suit the players at his disposal.

How Liverpool's hybrid 4-4-2 would work with Maxi

One key aspect of the formation and its potential success in the modern game are the two wide midfielders. On the right side of the four, the player (usually Jordan Henderson so far this season, but a role that would suit Steven Gerrard perfectly) is asked to tuck in slightly, providing something of a midfield trio alongside Lucas and Charlie Adam. The left sided player, a role that John Barnes made famous, is asked to push on, linking midfield and attack and certainly has a creative burden on his shoulders.

When Downing is played in this position, his tendency is to stick to the flank, which is all well and good and has brought a number of chances this season, but also stymies, to a certain extent, the attacking flair of José Enrique. The full back is a great attacking weapon for Liverpool, and that would only be enhanced with Maxi in the side, his cutting inside dovetailing perfectly with Enrique’s forays down the flank. With Suárez dropping deep into the ‘Beardsley’ role as well, the two South Americans would be more than able to continue their fruitful link up play.

In all honesty I simply cannot understand why Maxi has been reduced to just 13 Premier League minutes this season; his performance against Stoke in the Carling Cup was evidence that he has not magically lost his talents over the summer. For a player who has reached the age of 30, and who will more than likely end his career back in his native Argentina, such a lack of game time may signal the beginning of the end of his Liverpool career. If it does, it would be a great shame that only briefly did the Liverpool fans get to see such a talent run down their wing for them.

Update

On Sunday 20th November, the wishes of many Liverpool fans were granted and Maxi was recalled to the starting line-up for the trip to Stamford Bridge. The Argentinian featured in front four specifically designed to make the most of Chelsea’s weakness – the high defensive line with which many of their defenders are uncomfortable – and, thanks in no small part to another excellent performance from Maxi, a win was secured.

There was an expectation of fluidity about the front four that Liverpool fielded, and that was true to a large extent, but Maxi was the one to keep a stable position with only 3% of his passes coming in the right hand half of the pitch. Maxi made 30 passes during the match, with 24 (80%) of them finding their mark, but it was drifting into the space between David Luiz and Branislav Ivanovic where he was absolutely key to the game.

It was from a run in exactly this position, perfectly found by Craig Bellamy, that he scored the opening goal, and indeed has Luis Suárez been more accurate with his passing in the first half, Maxi could have had considerably more than the one chance he got. The goal continued Maxi’s lethal touch since Kenny Dalglish returned to the helm; in his last eight league starts Maxi has bagged eight goals. To further add to that achievement, those eight goals have come from a total of just 18 shots on goal in those games, giving Maxi a chance conversion rate of 47.06% (in context, Sergio Agüero has a chance conversion rate of 26.32% this season).

Perhaps Maxi’s most impressive stat from Sunday’s game, however, comes in the guise of his second half pass completion. A tactical switch from André Villas-Boas swung the game in Chelsea’s favour, and the Reds were seemingly unable to hang onto the ball. Maxi may have been tiring – his lack of minutes catching up with him – and was substituted in the 78th minute, but as Liverpool struggled to hold onto the ball for any length of time, Maxi completed 11 out of his 12 attempted passes, a completion rate of 91.67% which undoubtedly helped give the defence some respite when they were able to clear the ball.

It will have come as no surprise to the many who were calling for his inclusion that Maxi had such a positive effect on the game from a Liverpool point of view. He calmness on the ball, ability to find space and ever increasing accuracy in front of goal make him one of the better players in the squad, and we can but hope that this is the first of many starts over the rest of the season.

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About the Author

SFurnivall


34 Comments

  1. AnfieldIndex

    October 31, 2011 at 7:17 pm

    Really enjoyed that. I am very surprised that Liverpool FC won 70% of their matches with Maxi in the side whilst Kenny has been in charge! It does seem as though Maxi enjoys the system that Kenny has adopted. I do hope he gets some game time versus Swansea. Maybe just what we need to win at home which we haven’t managed in the last two games.

  2. Rob

    October 31, 2011 at 7:41 pm

    Good article with some great insight. Well done!

  3. Hugo

    October 31, 2011 at 8:28 pm

    I did not know the numbers but I had noticed Maxi’s influence in our game. He and Meireles were unstoppable when looking to create a chance for Suarez, or even among themselves. I agree Enrique benefits more from playing with someone who can cut into his right foot and don’t understand how Kenny is not playing him at the moment, even as a sub given how we lose possession as we enter the final moments of every match!

  4. Bernie

    October 31, 2011 at 8:30 pm

    Couldn’t agree more, mate. Although I quite like the look of Downing at times, generally he hasn’t set the world alight and the same can be said of Henderson, though it is early days for them and they have improved lately. But, like you, I think Maxi gives that little bit more experience and short passing game, which I think Suarez, in particular, loves to feed off. So, yeah – would like to see more of Maxi please, Kenny !

    • Tony

      November 1, 2011 at 6:29 am

      Henderson is quality, watch him when he starts in the middle, very attacking player!!!!

  5. Liam Nally

    October 31, 2011 at 8:52 pm

    Great article buddy,would definetley love to see more of Maxi as I really don’t rate Downing at all and you just have to look at the goals he scored at the end of last season 3 against Fulham away and another 3 against Birmingham at home.I would really like to see him back in the first team.

  6. SFurnivall

    October 31, 2011 at 9:10 pm

    Thanks for the comments, guys. Much appreciated and glad you all enjoyed the article. As I’m sure you can tell I’m a big fan of Maxi, I love the way he plays the game and he’d be perfect for what we’re trying to do. As Hugo said, I can’t understand how he’s not getting game time at very least as a substitute.

  7. SamSports

    October 31, 2011 at 9:22 pm

    Maxi having a run in the side would put pressure on Downing et all To step it up. Adam, Downing & Henderson could all do with playing with MAXI!!!

  8. Mike Arms

    November 1, 2011 at 1:03 am

    I have expected Maxi to come on at some point in every one of our games this season in place of Downing but for some strange reason he doesn’t get a look in. Kenny doesn’t seem to use the subs very well, maybe because we haven’t been killing teams off so he’s scared to make a change just in case it doesn’t work out. I would love to see Maxi get more minutes but Kenny didn’t sign him and obviously doesn’t rate him so I think his days are numbered. He keeps playing Henderson out of position just to get him on the pitch and he is sticking with Downing even though he has been poor to average so far. Kenny has allowed midfield talent like Aquilani, Meireless and Cole to leave to make room for his signings but I don’t think any of them have actually performed any better than the players they have replaced. Maxi will just be another talent allowed to leave too early and for a negligible fee.

  9. WK CHAN

    November 1, 2011 at 1:34 am

    Well, I guess KK is just being stubborn or being ‘stuck’ in his time tunnel when British players were the ‘norm’ – no flair, no technique, just brawn stubborn determination. But times has changed & evolved SOCCER into another level. Hence, there were doubts about KK when noting that he was out from this game for soooooooooo looooooooooooong.

    REMARKS : Being in the game WATCHING, is Soooooo MUCH different than being in the hot pot ie; MANAGER.

    • WK CHAN

      November 1, 2011 at 1:36 am

      ONE MORE THING : why bring back Craig Bellamy when you only want him to warm the bench? Don’t you think that’s a disgrace to someone’s integrity when this someone looks up at you as an IDOL? Further, Craig definitely can run 2x (TWICE !) faster than our 35mill Beast (if that’s what you call him to be)

      • Rob

        November 1, 2011 at 6:29 am

        He is anything but a beast. More like a DONKEY. Plays like one. Even looks like one.

      • blaizh

        November 1, 2011 at 8:00 am

        British player no flair now that’s hurtful to say the verry least. Have u ever watch barnes keegan play not to ever say the great dalglish and rush. Recent times we have folwer stevie owen shearer. The scums had beckham giggs and this is to name just a few.

        Guys trust me big andy will come good!

      • blaizh

        November 1, 2011 at 8:01 am

        British player no flair now that’s hurtful to say the verry least. Have u ever watch barnes keegan play not to ever say the great dalglish and rush. Recent times we have folwer stevie owen shearer. The mancs had beckham giggs and this is to name just a few.Guys trust me big andy will come good!

  10. Lara

    November 1, 2011 at 2:54 am

    I am fan of Maxi of Argentina… Excelent article, I’m informed, and a lot of us think the same…Maxi ended up very well last season, and we shouldn’t forget that he scored 2 goals on the preseason, and I think that he deserved a place on the team.
    I really liked reading your article, and in fact I share it…

    Maxi, Maxi Rodriguez runs down the wing for me ♫

  11. langsambar

    November 1, 2011 at 4:51 am

    give him chance play again. he will show different game.

  12. Joy

    November 1, 2011 at 5:41 am

    I think Maxi has done reasonably well deserves to find a place in the starting 11 not always but atleast sometimes depending upon the opposition we are facing and other cirmumstances.I like this pass n move play sometimes its good to play that way rather than the direct football we tend to play.For the Swansea game I hope Maxi gets a chance to play.Suarez and Carroll upfront,Maxi on the left,Henderson on the right with Adam and Lucas in the middle,with Enrique,Agger,Carragher,Johnson/Kelly at the back.Downing/Kuyt/Bellamy can come on from the bench and cause problems for a tired defence in the second half.

  13. Tony

    November 1, 2011 at 6:25 am

    Maxi is class and it shows how strong the squad is now!!!

    • LFC4LIFER

      November 1, 2011 at 5:24 pm

      Yh the squad is so strong that we are 6th in the league and lost to stoke and spurs….

      We are dependent on Suarez fact!

  14. AnfieldIndex

    November 1, 2011 at 6:52 am

    We haven’t showed the depth of our squad though as Maxi isn’t playing enough. Maxi should really be an option off of the bench. You could see how we mauled teams like Birmingham and Fulham at the end of last year because Suarez had so much movement around him and to be honest I think Maxi takes pressure off of Kuyt too.

    They all seemed to link up beautifully.

  15. ode

    November 1, 2011 at 8:20 am

    ya i keep worndrin why kk leve maxi out on our games that guy always make a deffrent in any games kk pls use him his gud

  16. Silver Samurungu

    November 1, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    It is scandalous the way Maxi is being treated! Why are his obvious talents being ignored to make way for King Kenny’s dubious million pound signings? We need a new approach if we’re to qualify for the Champions League next season. A shake-up is needed now before it’s too late! We need a lot more goals if we’re to make an impression, and Maxi will definitely contribute!

  17. Joe

    November 1, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    Maxi and Raul were the difference in the second half of last season. Selling Raul and sidelining Maxi seems almost as foolish as paying £16m+ for a player that ‘might’ be good enough to wear the LFC shirt one day.

  18. LFC4Lifer

    November 1, 2011 at 5:27 pm

    Fantastic article…
    But most educated fans already know this… Unfortunately KK hasn’t got a clue or so it would seem.

  19. Gary

    November 1, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    Kenny’s approach to Liverpool has been if you want to play for the red shirt you will get your chance. There was a story a while ago that said Rodriguez was looking for a move back to Argentina. Kenny thinks he is looking at the best interest of Liverpool in heart, but how is it better for Liverpool if quality players are not being used. Forget about wanting to play for Liverpool with feeling, its a professional sport, and if you produce you should be able to play regardless. Rodriguez has good work ethic, and he isn’t a Tevez that will disrespect Liverpool. I don’t think Kenny is seeing that in Rodriguez; he thinks he is a temporary player. If this isn’t the reason why he isn’t playing then God knows.

    • AnfieldIndex

      November 2, 2011 at 8:22 am

      Got to agree with that Gary. I think Kenny knows that this is Maxi’s last year and he’s here as a back up in case of injuries etc. It would be ideal for him to at least get a place on the bench.

  20. williams simeon etete

    November 2, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    its a fantastic topic but its so sad to a player like MAXI being sideline since the starting of the season,and i believed in some of our games atleast kenny surposed to give MAXI a chance to play but kenny would’nt want to do because he (kenny)plays the players he loves and if he’s (kenny)with you then such player time in the club so far kenny is in charge,that’s why kenny allowed players like AQUILANI and RAUL just to mention but few while our midfield is still not balance,but kenny allowed our two good midfielders left in pains.

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  22. nizam m yeop

    November 3, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    Hopefully, king kenny will read this. Dear admin, please forward these good views of maxi to king kenny. Please end this drawing games kenny. YNWA

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  26. Jack

    November 20, 2011 at 11:34 pm

    Nice update. Was pleased with Maxi’s inclusion today and calls for him to return were all justified.

  27. Ali

    November 21, 2011 at 3:53 am

    Great article … represents what fans wanted. hope kk will be reading this. well in my opnion kk giving much of the time to new players to play togther and gel. And against chelsea it was matter of making in to top 4. if we lost we left far behind. so he recalls experince players. maxi, bellamy and kyut. which worked and further more im not expecting maxi will b given more time on pitch …. any way good win ..Ynwa

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