Liverpool’s 3-0 defeat at Old Trafford in December was a perfect illustration of the team’s regression this season. It was a direct reversal of the result in the same fixture last March, when a trident of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, and Raheem Sterling, saw Liverpool become an unstoppable attacking force.
If the club could take a positive from this defeat, it would be the 3-4-3 formation they lined up in for this game and have used, largely successfully, in each game since.
The 3-4-3 (or more accurately 3-4-2-1) hides weaknesses as much as it emphasises strengths, with Martin Skrtel, Simon Mignolet, and Lucas Leiva, all reviving their Liverpool careers after struggling with mistakes and/or poor form in the first part of the season.
The system has allowed Philippe Coutinho’s talent to blossom, and (ignoring his shooting) he’s become one of the best players in the league. The Brazilian has achieved this playing in a role which is neither midfielder, wide playmaker, or number ten, but is a hybrid of all three, allowing him to drift around the pitch, flummoxing the opposition with his movement, trickery, and eye for a through-ball.
For more detail on the 3-4-3 system, download or pick up a copy of the latest We Are Liverpool fanzine, in which the formation and its benefits for each player are discussed in more depth.
Brendan Rodgers seems to drastically change his formations if the team aren’t clicking. From 4-2-3-1 to the 4-1-2-1-2 diamond, and from 4-2-3-1 (failing again) to the 3-4-3, the manager addresses problems with a tactical iron fist, at least when it comes to the shape.
Earlier this season we even saw a change in the philosophy, as we tried to prove we can do the whole “shut-up-shop” thing, accommodating Rickie Lambert up front towards the end of our disastrous Champions League campaign.
If Liverpool are to reach the heights they cruised at in the early part of 2014, then they might need to evolve from the 3-4-3 to a close relation, rather than undergo another revolution. And this is where 3, become 2.
“I evolve, but I don’t revolve.”
– Alan Partridge.
Personnel issues are part of the reason we’ve arrived at the 3-4-3, and if the team are to progress then these issues will need to be addressed. Weaknesses at the back need to be turned into strengths, and a competent sweeper-keeper, a quality right sided defender, and another defensive midfielder would be needed in order to progress.
The successful introduction of Lucas Leiva in the role, may have finally convinced Brendan Rodgers that he needs to play a defensive midfielder, and it shouldn’t be a difficult position to upgrade. There are several options out there, as well as a few handy players coming through the youth ranks to provide economical backup.
The suggestion of specific personnel is probably for another article , but even before you start looking at fresh faces, it could be hoped that Tiago Ilori and Divock Origi could come in and do a job in these systems.
The graphic below shows an attacking evolution of the 3-4-3 into a 4-2-2-2/diamond formation. The weaknesses are Martin Skrtel and Simon Mignolet, who would need replacing in this system as it would rely on both a keeper and right centre back who are comfortable on the ball, and good positionally without it.
Some might say that Mario Balotelli could be upgraded in the left sided forward position, but there’s been enough written about the Italian already, so there’s no need to go into that here! The addition of an attacking right wing-back to the squad would allow Markovic to take up one of the forward roles, though the Serbian has been impressive with his driving runs from his current position, and surprisingly good at adapting to the defensive side of the role.
The addition of a specialist defensive midfielder could also allow Emre Can to move forward into the central midfield positions, and make use of his ability between the boxes. You can also see how the midfield four of Can, Coutinho, Henderson, and Sterling is a very close relation to the diamond formation of last season.
The next graphic shows a slightly more defensive Barcelona style 4-3-3, in which one full-back forms part of the back three when the team are attacking, helping out the two centre backs and defensive midfielder.
The black lines in this image are used to illustrate how this formation has evolved from the 3-4-3, with the arrows showing the mentality of the two full-backs. This borrows the Abidal-Alves combination used by Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, but with the roles on opposing sides, as Javier Manquillo (or Andre Wisdom) would be ideal for the defensive full-back role, and Alberto Moreno is the attacking full-back on the left.
Just imagine the pace of Moreno, Sterling, Sturridge, and Markovic, with Coutinho in behind picking out through balls!
Finally, the 3-4-3 has worked so well this season that it would be difficult to ignore in the future. With the addition of key personnel mentioned throughout this article, it could become a system which isn’t just there to hide the weaknesses of a few players, but one which emphasises the strengths and attacking philosophy of a whole team.
Emre Can could become a sweeper from the centre-back position, with the pace of Sakho and Moreno on the left, and Ilori and Markovic on the right covering back when the team turns over possession. A defensive anchor in midfield – in this case Lucas Leiva – would also provide the extra safety net.
One formation can evolve into several others without making drastic changes to the overall outlook of the team. This article has covered a diamond/4-2-2-2 hybrid, a Barcelona style 4-3-3, and the 3-4-3/3-4-2-1 used in recent games. You could adapt it to make a more defensive 5-4-1, but why would you want to do that?!
Shopping list (priority in bold!)
- Sweeper keeper
- Right sided centre back
- Defensive midfielder
- Attacking right wing-back
- Pacy, hard-working striker