CHARLIE ADAM. It’s been a funny old start, hasn’t it?

When he signed, and in the weeks shortly after that point, we saw references ranging from “the Scottish Redondo” to “Xarlie Adamso” over the length and breadth of the Red web. But since, while many have taken to the fella, we’ve also seen a few less complimentary references. He’s marmite, it seems. Fans either seem to love him or loathe him.

For me, both extremes are symptomatic of Liverpool fans being preoccupied with what’s going on behind their eyes, rather than what they’re seeing in front of them (myself very much included by the way, before you think I’m stood on any kind of moral high ground here).

On reflection, it seems we’ve seen the player we ordered. Good and bad.

“Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There’s no better rule.”
– Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

We saw the blueprints before we ordered, didn’t we?

In June last year, illustrious Blackpool blogger “Tangerine Dreaming” (AKA John Kane) penned as comprehensive a profile of the player Liverpool were about to sign as was possible. It told us everything we needed to know about the player, albeit with appropriate contextual caveats. Blackpool played their distinctive system, and Blackpool had their own peculiar crosses to bear. Blackpool, while swashbuckling at times, weren’t Liverpool, despite having bossed them both at Anfield and Bloomfield Road.

A good six months on, it’s enlightening to revisit that piece. The original article’s here:
Charlie Adam – An Honest Appraisal – By Tangerine Dreaming.

John was kind enough to give up some time to help me revisit the content of his article from last summer, and to comment on how Charlie might fit into the Liverpool midfield through to the end of the season and beyond. Before we go any further, and as you’ll no doubt know we tend to have players on loan at Blackpool, get on his blog. It’s one of the very best football blogs out there and I highly recommend it.

Note: the numbers presented below are based on league appearances, and are taken from Guardian Unlimited’s excellent “Chalkboards” facility. They live here:

So – to Adam’s half-term appraisal…

While outlining the level he’s capable of, and his periodic ability to delight with his vision, John in June clearly stated the downside.

His first time passing (without looking up) can be sublime and well disguised, however, these carry a high tariff and don’t always work. If intercepted early enough then he can compromise his own team’s shape in the defensive phase…

He does… need time on the ball in order to pick his pass and if a team puts him under pressure, he can be caught in possession by an astute opponent. If his awareness allows him to sense danger he will surge forward to create space to release the pass. However, his accuracy can suffer in these situations as his focus tends to be disturbed.

…his pass completion fluctuated throughout the season from a high of 81% to a low of 45%.

He then illustrated that point with a nice clear graph. What jumped out at you was that when he made a lot of passes, his pass completion (as a rule) increased. (The thicker the line in the graph, the more passes he made.)

Charlie Adam pass completion numbers

Now, on further investigation, that also seems to be true of other midfielders – more on that at a later date – but what was clear was that Charlie’s graph fluctuated more than the others measured in the sample.

So is the same true of his numbers this season? (Note that save for Spurs, Everton, and more recently Blackburn and Newcastle, he’s played the full 90 in every league game.) Here’s the graph.

Charlie Adam pass completion numbers

When Charlie makes more passes, those passes are more accurate. When he makes fewer passes, as a rule they’re less accurate. But compared to some (Parker, Barry, Carrick, and so forth) he makes far fewer, and they’re far less accurate.

Charlie’s form, both last season and this, shows swings from great to poor, but you won’t see it sat at ‘Steady Eddy’ levels for the duration of a season. At times, he’s sublime, but often he’s limited. So it’s useful to get the calipers out and recalibrate our expectations in light of that knowledge. Using passing stats is limited in illustrating his creative form, granted, but we’ve seen ample evidence of his fluctuating form thus far, and we’re pretty certain we know why it happens in each case, aren’t we?

Before moving on, here are Parker’s passing numbers for the current season by way of contrast.

Parker's stats

Charlie’s max/min stats (ignoring the Spurs aberration): pass completion – worst of 66%, best of 88.7%, difference of 22.7%; passes attempted – worst of 36, best of 86, difference of 50.

Parker’s max/min stats: pass completion – worst of 81.5%, best of 95.7%, difference of 14.2%; passes attempted: worst of 53, best of 88, difference of 35.

Parker. It’s a shame that Tottenham got Parker. But while he’s played at a significantly higher level for much of the season, when Charlie’s been good, he’s been just as good. The question is, is it fair in his current context to expect him to be that good on a consistent basis? And if so, what needs to be in place for it to happen?

(Note that the passing numbers include corners and crosses, both of which are by their nature less accurate. It’d be interesting to recalculate the figures excluding them – Charlie’s numbers would look significantly better if they were factored out. In fact, in future posts, we’ll explore the nature of these stats further… but hopefully not so far that the will to live completely deserts you.)

John had this to say in June about Charlie’s engine.

He has pace, a common misconception is that he isn’t quick. He’s certainly not a hundred metre runner, however, his pace over the first few metres is enough to take him away from most opponents especially given his upper body strength and ability to fend off tacklers (he has a take on success rate of 49%). However, this pace cannot be sustained over distance and will look to a drag of the ball or a nutmeg to beat his man rather than engage in a foot race.

…Physically he looks strongly built, if anything he may be carrying too much body fat which would improve given the right circumstances as Blackpool’s approach to fitness conditioning isn’t comparable to an established Premier League team.

This particular Topic has been deep fried, hasn’t it? He still looks no stranger to a fish supper, and while most would concede he’s improved a little here, he’s not bionic. He’s never going to be bionic. Don’t expect him to be.

Tangerine Dreaming commented here that “his stamina doesn’t appear to be an issue”, but I’d argue that’s part of his profile that’s subject to context. He played in a system that was more forgiving of his nature at the time. John expands on this on reflection. “For me, the two things that stand out above all the playing attributes are his fitness and mentality. For instance, I felt that Liverpool would pull him into shape. I think he looks fitter, although he does look like he’s still carrying a few bags of very heavy sugar around with him. Obviously the fitness coaches will know the true data re body fat and so forth, but I’d say that he’s still carrying at least half a stone too much and hasn’t quite shaped up into the top shape that I’d expect to see at a top club.”

Strength and resilience to injury
John on Charlie’s strength and resilience to injury, from June.

He is strong in head to heads, tough in the tackle, a decent leap is met with a good sense of timing and a strong neck gives him above average aerial power which he utilises more in his own box rather than the attacking one, more due to his positioning and role within the Blackpool team. He doesn’t appear to be overly susceptible to injury, tends to pick up very occasional knocks as opposed to serious injuries either by overuse or accident.

We’ve not seen anything to contradict those words.

Set piece delivery
Now – another hot potato. His set piece delivery.

He is excellent at delivering set pieces. Wide free kicks are better delivered from wide on the right hand side and generally hits them just above head height swinging inwards. His free kick delivery from wide left have a tendency to be hit low towards feet and behind the defensive line, swinging away from goal. He generally takes the majority of his corners from the right side, in-swinging, although has a tendency to over hit the ball. His striking of the corner can be inconsistent with a scuffed low and running corner being the key fault.

That’s interpreted as ‘excellent’ from a Blackpool fan’s perspective. From the collective Red perspective, having seen pretty much what Tangerine Dreaming described over the first half of the season, it’s interpreted as ‘shite’. But season to date, he’s been credited with 8 assists, including some very decent delivery from set pieces and corners. Again, you wonder if this is a ‘between the ears’ issue on our part. We want our footbal accompanied by a string quartet.

John expands on this from the present-day perspective. “His corners – I may be wrong with this, but a corner delivery can only be as good as the attacker that gets on the end of it or as bad as the defenders defending it. Charlie’s delivery from corners are still good, but corners are such as tricky thing to get right – there are so many variables. (No wonder Barcelona have taken a stand against them.) Sometimes corners just don’t come off. I really like the way that Charlie strikes his corners, but if the myriad of possibilties don’t combine to allow one of his team to score, the stats start to rack up. Ferguson made the comment about his corners after the Man U game last season, but Blackpool hadn’t scored consistently from corners last season – we had bursts, as teams do. A few of the corners we scored weren’t even delivered by Adam but by Elliott Grandin. If you look at the Man U corners we scored from, Ferguson (I think) deflected criticism from his team’s poor defending by saying Adam’s corners were worth £10m. I think a lot of people’s ears pricked up when that comment was made, and it could be misleading. Adam delivered tons of quality corners which we didn’t score from and he stuck in some ropey ones too, one of which he scored from against West Ham. Odd. I’d wager that if he persists in taking corners that he’ll have a burst again.”

(All this is subject to further investigation into our own Andy Heaton’s theory that it’s all down to the tightness of the park at Anfield.) ;)

I don’t think anyone’s taken issue with his attitude, other than the complete Interweb ‘wallopers’ that is, but some would cite indiscipline as having been an issue. He’s had three yellers and a prominent indelible stain of a red. How did he fare at Blackpool?

His disciplinary record is marked by his persistent collecting of yellow cards (11 this season), however, it is rare that he loses his temper, even though he was sent off on his Blackpool for a stamp on an opponent. He does appear to have moments of passion where his focus is lost and can lead him in to the occasional rash challenge.

Expanding on this point this week, John makes an interesting comment. Mentally, he hasn’t developed. By this I mean I think he could do with working on his reaction to mistakes. Now I’ve not had a great chance to scrutinize this in more detail, but for me he’s made two mistakes that I feel in his eyes he will have berated himself for and potentially is still holding on to. First is the penalty miss against Wigan. I think that will have shaken him. He took the ball from Suarez, and his domineering body language (to me) suggested he may have been thinking, ‘This is mine, I’m here to step up under pressure to bury these spot kicks’. Missing it will have shaken his self belief, which I think is projected as very strong, but may in reality be very thin and liable to crumble. The second was the own goal against Blackburn. Not much he could have done, but he will have been rollicking himself inside. In that respect he’s far from being top class. I feel top class players have a great attitude to mistakes and forget them in an instant. Adam hangs on to them for too long and I think it impacts on his game. It happened a few times at Blackpool and you could see his head drop. Added to that, he’s not ‘top dog’ at Liverpool – you only have to see his face when Bellamy grabs the ball for a free kick to see that he is adjusting to not being top of the class, and needs time to settle in his role in the pack.

I think John has a compelling point.

Tactical awareness and positioning
The last roasted spud on the baking tray is his tactical awareness and positional play. Again, John was about as comprehensive on our behalf as he could have been in June.

Within Blackpool’s 4-2-3-1 formation, he forms a part of the deeper two midfielders, but is more progressive than his partner and acts as a link from holding midfielder to the man at the tip of the midfield triangle. When Blackpool play their flatter 4-3-3 he will normally gravitate towards the centre left of the midfield three.

Seems fair comment to me. When Liverpool have set up with a ‘busier’ midfield (4-2-3-1, 4-3-3, 4-5-1 type set ups) he’s looked comfortable, and he’s put in his best showings.

To the nub of the matter.

Should he be employed in a 4-4-2 then he can be exposed against the opposition central midfield pair, should they work hard to pressurise him and to cut off the link from his midfield partner. It would be unwise to utilise him in this formation given his propensity for needing more time on the ball. A midfield three gives him support and passing options as well as cover for when he breaks forward.

We all read the blog at the time and interpreted it positively, didn’t we? We were hopeful. But what were we hopeful of? That he’d slot in without too much manifestation of the downside? That we’d set up tactically in ways that compensated for his limitations? That he’d operate as strictly a Gerrard backup and squad filler?

Some expected a lot more I think. John made some interesting points on this front when I asked his opinion.

“I think any player who signs for an illustrious club is always subject to massive amounts of scrutiny and comparisons to great players, and Liverpool have had so many that new player A is always going to be compared to old player B. I guess it’s all a part of being a fan of a club; however, to paraphrase a corny saying, he is the only Charlie Adam. He really should be viewed for what he is. The point about his deployment in the team is key. At Liverpool, he is never going to be the focal point. At Blackpool he was. He also had a cracker of a runner and tackler alongside him in David Vaughan. I’d be interested in how Adam’s deployment has flexed since the injury to Lucas.

There’s no doubt in my mind that, if deployed correctly, Adam and Gerrard could play together, but without a doubt they need a third man. They both need the security of someone who will sit and work for them. Adam acting as the link and tempo man with some creative license, and Gerrard as the creator/attacker/runner into the box type midfielder which he thrives as. It’s such a shame that Lucas got injured, as that three in midfield would be a delight to see, and I’d argue as strong if not stronger than anything on show in the Premier League right now.

I may be wrong here, but those limitations of his were the reason why [Blackpool] picked him up on the cheap. I think Rangers fans at the time we signed him called him ‘fat sulky boy’ or something along those lines, and to be entirely brutal, elements of that haven’t gone away. His game developed superbly in the time he was with Blackpool and on his day when he sees tons of the ball and his passes come, off he’s a joy; but there’s a reason we picked him up for £500K and he was picked up by a prestigious club at a ‘good value’ £7m or something in the region of that. To me the fee we got for him seems unreal – it’s huge compared to what we receive normally – but for Liverpool I’d imagine £7m is about an average spend on a player.

Essentially, what I was starting to say is that ‘he is what he is’. If he was anything more, that is, more consistent, potent, fit and so forth, then he would never have joined Blackpool and then gone on to Liverpool. He’d have excelled consistently in the SPL and never traipsed down to rebuild himself by the seaside.”

It’s a thought-provoking read that, isn’t it? We all cried out for Moneyball signings on the installation of our baseball wizard owners after all, didn’t we? What does that involve? Overlooking limitations in players in favour of what we feel they add to our squad, and to our team. But when following that kind of approach, you need to have a clear idea of the process (or processes) you’re going to follow. The ways you’re going to play. But thus far this season, we’ve already set up many different ways, and not just in terms of formation and overall balance and approach. We’ve played deep and hit on the counter attack away from home with tremendous results. Equally, we’ve done the same and suffered less compelling results; the difference often turning on small details (Chelsea away contrasted with Manchester City away, for example). In some (if not most) games, we’ve dominated possession and territory, but shown a frightening inability to put the ball in the next.

But most of all, we’ve seen key changes in personnel imposed by injury. With Lucas at his side, the willing runner and tackler John refers to above, and playing at a frightening level against sides of all standards, Adam was beginning to look a real player. Looking at the graph again, Adam’s second ‘fall off’ in passing performance followed the Fulham away game (in which he actually played pretty well alongside Spearing), which coincidentally followed the Chelsea away when Lucas was sadly injured. Three consecutive games without Lucas or Spearing… and his quality suffered markedly. So what of his other ‘dip’ following the Spurs away game? Lucas remained in the side until the Norwich game – game 9 listed in the graph. Well, it’s maybe simpler in this case – confidence, and the nature of the contest. Wolves, Everton and Man United – I think most were pretty happy with his showing in those games, his passing numbers notwithstanding.

All that maybe calls the nature of the passing stats into question, but again, that’s for a later post – or possibly many later posts.

Conclusion – or lack of it
Charlie Adam is a player who divides opinion as often as he divides an opposing defensive line. I wouldn’t suggest this article presents anything conclusive, but hopefully it at least provides some food for thought and acceptance of our beefy Dundonian. Other beefy Dundonians demand he gets a fair hearing, after all. Ahem.

Other than the Spurs red card, he’d played all 90 minutes of each league game this season until Gerrard returned to fitness. Since then, he’s come off around the hour mark (69, 58 and 56 minutes) three league games in a row. Surely that’s getting closer to his natural place in the pecking order, given his and Jordan Henderson’s current form.

I suppose this will read like a criticism of Kenny – guilty as charged – but there’s nothing wrong with a standard 4-4-2 if you’ve got the right players and system to do it. I just don’t like a meat-and-potatoes 4-4-2 unless you’ve got truly badass players in the middle on the top of their game. Lucas was that man week-in, week-out, but a freak collision with Juan Mata deprived him of a functioning ACL, so we are where we are.

When we’ve seen him in a more densely packed midfield, or alongside the monstrous Lucas, he’s fared far better. Sure, sometimes his first touch isn’t true, and the ball bounces off him. A certain type of football fan will wince whenever they see that, myself very much included. “Oh for fuck’s sake Charlie!”. And sometimes he’ll drive beyond a marker with the ball at his feet and take one too many touches, ending up in a heap down a blind alley.

He’s Charlie Adam. Embrace it.

He’s not Lucas. He never will be. Lucas is a special player.

He’s not Gerrard. He never will be. Gerrard is a special player.

But he *is* Charlie Adam – that’s a limited player who offers genuine positives to his manager and a big potential upside (still) for a man who cost in the region of £6 or £7 million. We didn’t buy a Rolls Royce. We bought a Millenium Falcon. Capable of doing the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs, but held together with paper clips and old bits of chewing gum.

As John Kane rightly says, Charlie has no choice but to up his game in 2012 if he’s to retain his first team slot. “It’ll certainly be interesting to see how Charlie settles as Gerrard is reintegrated back in to the first team. Kenny Dalglish certainly gave Charlie a good run at the start of the season but perhaps gave him a little bit of an easy ride in to the first team, and he’ll now need to work hard to prove his worth.”

But I’d back him to rise to the challenge and grow. Just expect a bumpy ride a long the way.