Borini: Liverpool’s tiki-taka catalyst?
A new manager’s first signing isn’t necessarily more important than his second or third, but it always feels like a statement. So what message has Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers sent out with the £10.5m signing of Fabio Borini from Roma?
It’s hardly a surprise that Rodgers wants quick, technical footballers, but Borini is very different from the type of player Liverpool were signing last summer, indicating a clear shift away from the largely unimaginative recruits brought in under Kenny Dalglish and Damien Comolli.
Borini is perfect for Rodgers’ Liverpool. Barcelona are a key influence on Rodgers’ philosophy, and Borini is his equivalent of Pedro Rodríguez. Like the Spanish winger, Borini is rarely the star of the show, but is quick, tidy, versatile and hard-working. Pedro is a system player: Samuel Eto’o, Thierry Henry, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Lionel Messi, David Villa and Alexis Sánchez are all more naturally gifted forwards, but no one had a better understanding of Pep Guardiola’s tactics. After all, he had a head start, having worked under Guardiola for Barcelona’s B team.
Similarly, Rodgers has coached Borini before: first in Chelsea’s youth side, then when he was on loan at Swansea. Borini grasps what Rodgers demands from him, and Rodgers knows Borini will follow his instructions. The Italian spent last season at Roma, which furthers the Pedro comparisons – his coach Luis Enrique had joined from Barcelona B, and was effectively trying to recreate Guardiola’s system in Italy.
Like Pedro, Borini’s main quality is that he knows what to do, and where to be, regardless of which wing he’s deployed on. His movement is excellent – he specialises in stretching the play, then making runs in behind the full-back to receive through-balls. He also combines effectively with an attacking full-back, moving inside to drag the opposition full-back towards him, thereby opening up space on the wing.
Liverpool struggled for goals last season, so Borini’s poaching quality from a wide position will come in handy. His goals are rarely spectacular and often scrappy, but he allows the main striker to drop deep without fear of leaving the penalty box empty.
His work rate is another useful quality; Rodgers demands pressing, encouraging his side to win the ball within seven seconds of losing it. Borini moves forward and closes down defenders, but also sprints back quickly, catching up opposition midfielders and nicking the ball unexpectedly. Dirk Kuyt will be missed at Anfield, but his industry on the flank has already been replaced.
If there’s one weakness, it’s his passing. Last season Borini had the lowest pass completion rate of any outfield Roma player. Although this is partly because he’s keen to attempt killer balls, sometimes his passes are simply underhit when under pressure. But even when he fails to find a teammate, you can understand what his intention is.
That clarity is crucial. Last season Liverpool played a variety of systems, lacked a cohesive identity and players’ roles changed from one week to the next. Now they have a coach who wants a particular type of football, and a player signed specifically because he will function in it. The signing sums up Rodgers – attacking, progressive and logical.
Follow Life’s A Pitch on Twitter @BTLifesaPitch