Is Brendan Rodgers Evolving The Back Three Idea?
Not many positives can be taken from last season if we’re being honest. An unbeaten streak sandwiched between two below average runs is how you could describe our Premier League season. Two semi-final appearances in the domestic cups could be seen as a positive but the performance put in against Villa was underwhelming to say the least. Our European adventure came to a premature end and Rodgers’ Tricky Reds look like they’d flatlined.
One positive I took from the season though was the 343/3421 formation we used to turn around our season. It negates the need for a much needed defensive midfielder, or holding midfielder if you’re one of the few to find a defensive midfielder offensive. It gives Liverpool some much needed structure. Yes, it may have a negative impact on our ‘goals for’ column in the League table as we’re sacrificing an attacking player in theory but it’d greatly improve our ‘goals against’ column per season which currently stands at on average –readers of a nervous disposition please scroll down now – 47 goals. I’ve said it before and it’s fairly basic but if you don’t concede you can’t lose the game. I know this isn’t what many like to hear as they’re all for winning games 5-4 but a win is a win at the end of it all.
People put too much emphasis on formations when in reality they’re just a template of how it tends to look on paper. More often than not teams have a formation for when they’re attacking and one for when they’re defending. For example a 4231 can quickly turn into a 4141 when not in possession of the ball, a 433 can change into a 4231 when attacking. Teams may line up a certain way but the actual game plan for the individual players won’t become clear till the game starts, after all, why would you give away your ideas and secrets beforehand?
With this in mind I made an observation on Monday when the Reds went up against Bournemouth. Liverpool may have started with a 4231 on paper like below.
This is the line up we all saw before kick-off and thought we’d replicate how we played against Stoke. Jed Davies (@TPiMBW) did a superb analysis of the Liverpool midfield, there’s a video on YouTube and Anfield Index’s very own @lankyguyblog did a superb written piece on that game. Basically Jordan Henderson dropped as a holding midfielder and James Milner was pressing in the opponent’s half.
What actually happened
It’s not a strict 4231 after all, the players are given license to roam when they have the ball and the above image was the type of ‘formation’ we got to witness. It’s the makings of a 3421 formation that served us so well last season. In a previous article which you can find here I did mention using Joe Gomez as my defensive left-back so the side could easily transition to a back three. This is similar to what Brendan Rodgers has actually done here to great effect.
Liverpool are stretching the defence by having Ibe as left winger instead of a left wing-back. This, in theory, allows more space for Coutinho and Lallana in the half space (space in between the defence and attack) with Clyne offering the width down the right, to some extent. A good example of this can be seen here.
You can see both Adam Lallana and Philippe in the space you’d usually associate with the sole number 10. You can see Jordon Ibe on the far side keeping the width so the Bournemouth right-back, Francis, can’t fully commit to coming inside because this sort of overload on the right is the sort of move that lead to a big switch to Ibe who had acres of space to run into and it’s when he’s at his best.
Stats also back this observation up. Whoscored.com have an average position map which does what it says on the tin. It shows the average positions the players took up in the games.
These average positions are similar to the ones when we started with the three at the back last season as you’ll see from the images below. It’s not the traditional sort of 3421 that you would see on paper but it’s definitely there with Gomez a little deeper than Clyne .
This was against Bournemouth in the FA Cup and you can see its more of a traditional 3421 formation but we know how Brendan Rodgers likes to tweak things and using a left winger instead of a left wing-back is a clever move. Opens up the space for the men in the middle as you can see in the previous game against Bournemouth our attack was fairly compact with all three of Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling all spending a lot of their time central.
Last season I said we needed to revert back to a 433 formation because we didn’t have the legs in midfield to cope with playing two central midfielders. We do now. So the 343 is a viable option and not only that it’s an effective one. If Liverpool made a few tweaks so the centre man of the back three, which in this case is Lovren, played the ball to the midfield instead of having the likes of Milner and Henderson dropping to start plays then the midfield in turn would be 10 yards forward and closer to Benteke which can only benefit the team as a whole and increase the chances of the team scoring more goals.
The tweaked Ibe position of left winger may actually mean Liverpool are going to maybe use the 3 diamond 3 at some point as in this tactic the two wide players keep the width and have the central players push on into the space created and it generally causes havoc. Not many teams have the confidence or the personnel to do this. Barcelona used it a few times under Pep Guardiola and they taught Villareal a lesson, defeating them 5-0 with relative ease. Liverpool do have the tools to use this. Liverpool have also been using the 3 diamond 3 with their academy sides so it is something the club may like the look of.