Kenny Dalglish impressed by Raul Meireles
NOT even the most optimistic, enthusiastic Liverpool fan could find much to shout about during Roy Hodgson’s ill-fated six month spell in charge at Anfield.
With results poor, performances rarely any better, and the club’s future clouded by a multitude of off-field issues, the red half of Merseyside was a decidedly miserable place to be during the first half of this campaign.
Now, as Kenny Dalglish continues to dust the cobwebs off a club which had run into a wall under Hodgson, the former manager – widely criticised for guiding the club to just 13 wins in his 31 games in charge – can at least point to one decision which, it appears, he got absolutely spot on.
Raul Meireles cost Liverpool a fee of £11.5m from Portuguese champions FC Porto back in August, as the Reds looked to replace the hole left by Javier Mascherano’s departure to Barcelona. And though Hodgson never lasted long enough at Anfield to see the best of the club’s marquee summer signing, the arrival of Dalglish last month has seen the 27-year-old emerge as a key figure in their climb back up the table.
It was his second-half strike which settled Sunday’s clash with champions Chelsea at Stamford Bridge – a result which moves Dalglish’s men into the Premier League’s top six for the first time this season. Meireles, compared to Liverpool legend Terry McDermott upon his arrival, has now scored four times in his last five games, having failed to find the net in his first 21 appearances for the club.
His manager is not surprised to see the Portugal star finding his feet at Anfield.
“Understandably Raul has been getting some headlines for the goals he’s scored in recent weeks,” Dalglish said.
“His performances have been what I’ve expected. I knew he was a good footballer before he came to the club and he’s shown that.”
Plenty have credited Dalglish himself for the upsurge in Meireles’ goalscoring form.
Hodgson may have signed the midfielder, but he often struggled to find a way to shoehorn the new boy into his rigid 4-4-2 system. Meireles was utilised as an orthodox holding player, and even wide on the right of midfield.
It is not the first time he has been forced to adapt to a new role – in his early days at Porto he was deployed as an auxiliary left-back – but, though his application and endeavour could not be questioned, he was unable to settle into any kind of rhythm under Hodgson. Fortunately, his new manager has no doubts as to his most effective position.
“He’s intelligent and very good technically; he puts in a pile of running too,” said Dalglish. “He’s getting on the scoresheet so often because he’s playing a bit further forward. Those goals are a huge bonus for us.
“The strike on Sunday wasn’t as easy as it looked. He had to get up and over the ball to make sure he knocked it inside the post.
“The great thing for us was we had players getting into the box to capitalise on chances like that.”
Capitalise he has. Dalglish joked after Meireles’ stunning strike at Wolverhampton that his midfield man was “going for the golden boot”, but his goalscoring form has surprised few who saw him star for Porto over the past six years.
Meireles arrived at Estádio do Dragão from Boavista in 2004 and, alongside the more languid Lucho González and Paulo Assunção, formed a midfield which would help the club win four successive Portuguese league titles between 2005 and 2009.
For his country, whom he helped to glory at the European Under-16 Championships back in 2000, he is now an established first-choice with 43 senior caps, and was one of the shining stars of a disappointing World Cup in South Africa last summer. This week, he will come face to face with the man he (ostensibly) replaced at Anfield, as Portugal take on Mascherano’s Argentina in a friendly match in Geneva.
Andy Brassell, who watched Meireles at close quarters whilst working as a journalist for UEFA and Portugoal.net, believes he was always destined to play in England – and to score goals.
“He really developed at Porto under (former coach) Jesualdo Ferreira, and really became a key player for them,” he says, “I think a lot of people were surprised it took him so long to come to the Premier League. He always looked a player who would really suit English football, with his ‘box-to-box’ play, and he is proving that now.
“For Portugal in the (Euro 2012) qualifiers earlier this season, he played as almost a nominal midfield ‘sitter’, but I think the system Liverpool have found, with three midfield players, all comfortable on the ball and all taking it in turns to get forward, suits him perfectly.”
How does Meireles himself see it? “As a player I am a team worker, not a star or an individual player,” he says, “I just try to do my best every day.”
“I like the three positions in midfield and I feel comfortable in any of those,” he adds, before proving the Dalglish effect is not simply limited to events on the pitch. “But the most important thing is that the team plays well and wins. That is all that matters.”
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