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The Fullback Dilemma

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Jamie Carragher grey hair

Against West Bromwich Albion, Jamie Carragher attempted three of his 43 passes while in the final, attacking third.

West Brom right fullback Steven Reid, by comparison, attempted 11 of his 43 passes from the final third. Even playing under a manager with a clear preference for defensive fullbacks in the Konchesky mold, one who often drills flat and deep back lines with the bulk of the wide offensive duties falling to the midfielders and forwards, his passing chart shows a pattern of play shifted a good twenty or thirty yards up the pitch from where Carragher made his home.

Jamie Carragher passing chart

This is a problem, and would be a problem even for a side playing a classical 4-4-2 with the wide midfielders providing the bulk of the width. For Liverpool's rather ineffective 4-2-2-2, the narrowest commonly used formation in football, it was an unmitigated disaster.

Meanwhile, on the left side of the pitch, Danny Wilson may have tried to get forward a little more, but as with Carragher he lacked either the ability or the intent to get in and around the 18-yard box and deliver crosses. Additionally, he may have been even more prone to hopeful long balls sent arcing towards the stadium lights than his right-sided counterpart.

None of this is likely breaking news. After all, it's certainly no secret that Liverpool has a rather severe shortage of healthy fullbacks at the moment. Still, the lack of attacking intent, combined with an over-reliance on long-balls, offers a stark reminder of the alternative for those who would bemoan an attacking fullback's at times sloppy defensive play.

Danny Wilson passing chart

Of course, Liverpool's central midfield--with Spearing and Lucas often appearing outmatched while Meireles was bizarrely pushed wide for much of the match--didn't help matters either. However, the root of the problem lay with a defensive quartet whose most offensively dynamic and composed player on the day was Martin Skrtel, as they too often resorted to launching balls that didn't even give the Liverpool midfield the chance to play a possession game.

Though even before Johnson's early injury, that a side burdened with Jamie Carragher standing in as the least offensively gifted fullback in the Premier League would set up intentionally under-manned in midfield and exceptionally narrow all the way up the pitch in front of that back four is cause for puzzlement and some concern.

As for Carragher, it may not bode well that coming off the international break he could manage hardly more adventure from that fullback position than he might have had he started at center back. Speed and stamina may not be at the top of the list when it comes to essential skills for a central defender, but even taking that into consideration this was a painfully conservative display. The sort that couldn't help but leave one wondering if his fading legs--that, if one is honest, were never world class to begin with--may be signaling that the day when he will not be able to keep up even at center back has already arrived. For all that he deserves praise as a long-serving player for the club, the fear of a defensive line having to sit deeper and deeper to cover for his ever-decreasing mobility has to set off alarm bells if he can barely make it past the half way line while playing fullback after two weeks of rest.

In the end, though, and at least for the time being, the injury situation may make this a case of too many problems and no good solutions. Still, no matter that it's likely an issue that cannot be solved simply in time for the match against Manchester City, this failing at fullback was at the root of everything that went wrong for Liverpool against West Bromwich Albion. It may not be fair, but it's where Liverpool is as a club right now, and the manager and coaching staff's ability to find an even slightly workable short-term solution to this dilemma will go a long way to deciding if there's even a shred of hope remaining for Liverpool come this time next week.