Comolli: Pass or fail?

It seems Damien Comolli will forever be a polarising figure. Applauded in some circles for his work at Tottenham and laughed at from others. He is viewed as anything from the best at his craft to overrated and the one responsible for Tottenham’s disasterous start to the 2008/09 Premier League campaign.

A recent article on Backpage Football is blunt in its attack over the Frenchman’s reign as Director of Football Strategy and now Director of Football at Liverpool. Cian Fahey makes some startling comments about the signings Comolli has made.

Before any debate began on the transfers themselves, Fahey in fact loses all credibility by stating that the only game both Suarez and Carroll have started together this season was away at White Hart Lane. The team sheet for the match away at West Bromwich Albion would be just one example of how wrong he is.

Now onto some of criticisms of Comoli and the tactical direction of Liverpool since his arrival that the article made.

“There was only one problem…. Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez both prefer to lead the line and are best suited to play on the last line of defense.

Both players excel as the furthermost forward on the field. As a pairing, it is difficult to see how you can get the best out of both of them.”

First of all, if one is to take Fahey’s comment – that Liverpool’s two marquee strikers have only started together once this season – as the truth, then surely it would be ridiculous to comment on whether or not they can combine together and form a formidable partnership. Even after accepting how wrong that claim is, it is ridiculous to suggest that Liverpool require them to start together in a 4-4-2 or even that they were bought to do so on a regular basis. Both offer the side a very different set of skills and enable the management team an array of tactical options – either in a partnership or as lone forwards.

Fahey also applauds Manchester City and Mancini’s transfers of Carlos Tevez and Eden Dzeko. Has he forgotten that both operate more effectively as a lone striker and that the idea of the two playing together is borderline insane?

“The addition of Stewart Downing in the summer told me that Comolli, presumably after discussing with Dalglish, was looking to use Carroll to lead the line and complement the tall striker with a pair of wingers who would give him the service needed to soar up the scoring charts.

However if that was the case, Comolli would have had to have brought in another winger to balance the formation. Instead, he added more depth to an already crowded area of the field.”

The idea that the only way to provide service to a tall striker is by employing two out and out wingers who can cross the ball is ludicrous. Such a tactic would ensure that Liverpool became predictable and easy to set up against. Very few sides in the world set up in such a manner and the very best certainly don’t. Manchester United beat Liverpool 2-0 on the weekend with a traditional winger on the right, Valencia, and Ryan Giggs drifting into a secondary No.10 role from the left. Manchester City are on track to win this year’s league with ‘wide’ players David Silva, Samir Nasri and Adam Johnson cutting in from the left.

Secondly, the acquisition of Downing (ignoring his poor form for a second) was as much about filling a large gap in the squad – the lack of someone who could play at left midfield – as it was about finding a player to send in cross after cross to Andy Carroll. Whilst Maxi Rodriguez is capable of playing on the left, he is more suited to a central role or one where he is able to consistently drift inside. He is also not the calibre of player who can sustain a starting position over thirty-eight games. Downing may not be currently playing at that level either, however there is no doubting that he can perform at a much higher level than he has this season.

There was also little reason to spend money on a ‘proper’ winger for the right side of the field as the squad already has a number of players who can play this role. Dirk Kuyt has filled the position admirably for a number of years whilst Steven Gerrard and new signings Craig Bellamy and Jordan Henderson are also capable of performing on the right, without requiring to drift inside as often as Maxi would on the left. Downing himself can even play on the right wing, and has arguably played his best football for Liverpool in that position.

Comolli’s record with Liverpool shows that he is wanting to provide Kenny Dalglish and the management a group of players that can adapt and form a number of tactical variations. To label this as poor misses the point completely. Liverpool finished sixth last season and are in a rebuilding stage. For the last few seasons the side has lacked depth. Comolli has been charged with building this depth and has been largely successful so far.

Jose Enrique has been an excellent signing at left back. United’s Valencia may have had the better of him at times at Old Trafford on the weekend, yet there is little doubting he is one of the most consistent performers in the league in the position, has very few injury troubles and was purchased at an excellent price.

Craig Bellamy, whilst not adhering to the policy of buying younger players, has been Liverpool’s best attacking player this season. Brought in on a free transfer and on only a two year contract, he represents one of Comolli’s best deals in the transfer market.

Jordan Henderson is maturing into one hell of a player. Many have criticised his inability to completely control the midfield zone in matches, but at twenty-one he is a huge prospect for the future. As The Anfield Wrap argued, that his best position is not yet known could be the biggest advantage he has in his development.

Charlie Adam, for all his inconsistency, still possess one of the best boots in the league and has significantly improved his defensive work and fitness since arriving at the club. Another bargain purchase, he ensures Liverpool have depth in the centre of the field with Lucas, Gerrard, Henderson, Maxi and Spearing.

It is too early to comment much on Sebastian Coates, but from all accounts he is developing well and has featured on the bench consistently throughout the season.

Whilst Cian Fahey falls just short of labeling Comolli’s work a failure, his assessment of some of his signings and decisions leaves a lot to be desired.

On the question of whether Comolli deserves a pass or fail mark at this stage of his tenure at Liverpool… It is probably too early to tell. However, signs are positive and he is building a squad that has depth and options.

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