Hodgson searches for Meireles solution
Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson believes new signing Raul Meireles and Steven Gerrard could provide the midfield axis on which he can base the club's bid to regain UEFA Champions League status.
Meireles, a £10.7million signing from Porto, was brought in on the weekend before the closing of the transfer window with some of the proceeds of the sale of Javier Mascherano to Barcelona.
After his presentation on the pitch prior to Liverpool's home win over West Brom he immediately departed on international duty with Portugal and, as a result, he has had little time to adjust to his new surroundings. Similarly, Hodgson has not been able to properly assess the player's attributes.
Meireles made a 14-minute debut as a substitute in the goalless draw at Birmingham, played 90 minutes against Steaua Bucharest in the Europa League on Thursday and lasted until 11 minutes from the end of yesterday's defeat at Manchester United.
In that brief period the 27-year-old has shown he could be a valuable asset to Liverpool in terms of midfield energy and creativity. The majority of his time on the pitch has been spent in the advanced role behind Fernando Torres usually occupied by Steven Gerrard and Hodgson hopes, given time, the pair will strike up a useful partnership. He has admitted, however, he is still not sure where Meireles' best position is.
"They (he and Gerrard) are certainly interchangeable," said the 62-year-old. "We signed Meireles and the day after he went for 10 days away with Portugal and then came back for two days and made a substitute appearance against Birmingham.
"He had two training sessions and played on Thursday night and he played again on Sunday so it is very early for me to make very strong judgements about where his best position is. The work we do on the training field will show me how best to use him.
"He actually went out wide right late in the United game and did okay there also. All I can say is he has a lot of qualities and I'm sure we'll get a lot of use out of him. Most importantly he is a good and talented footballer and he is capable of playing anywhere across the midfield so we will see how we box it up together."
Hodgson was heartened by the player's performance against United. "I was quite pleased with the central midfield three of Christian Poulsen, Gerrard and Meireles," he continued. "I thought they got better as the game went on. In the second half in particular we looked much better but we've still got to provide that cutting edge.
"We got the ball into good areas, got it wide and gave ourselves good crossing opportunities but I'm still looking for that final ball and run which will polish things off. We saw a bit more of it in the second half but we've still got a long way to go on that and that is going to be a major focus of our work."
Defeat at Old Trafford has left Hodgson's team in 16th in the English Premier League. They are ten points behind leaders Chelsea but only three off fourth place which, Hodgson said, remained the club's main focus.
"Our goal at the start of the season was to compete for a Champions League place," added the former Fulham boss. "And if you are competing for a Champions League place you are perhaps automatically competing for the league because quite often the difference between first and fourth is not a vast number of points.
"If we become good enough to get ourselves in the top four who knows we might also get close to the number one position. I haven't made any bold statements on that at all. I don't say we can't do it and I definitely don't say we are going to."
Hodgson knows there is still plenty of work to do but is remaining upbeat despite critics already writing-off Liverpool's season.
"We are certainly in a transitional period but that fact per se does not have to be negative," he said."It is quite strange as in five (league) games I've seen two where the desire and determination was very good - against Arsenal with 10 men and yesterday - and the other games in between I don't know if we have done ourselves justice.
"It is good to see that we can do it - we have shown glimpses of it in the European games - and I thought against United it was a big step forward in terms of the way we played."