Brendan Rodgers rolled out yet another tweaked formation against Norwich. Formations are just a template on paper, a team can be as fluid or as structured as it likes depending on the instructions the manager gives. The Liverpool formation against Norwich could’ve been viewed as 352 or 3412 depending on when Liverpool had possession and when they didn’t. There are plenty of pros and cons to every single formation and that’s what I’ll be looking at in this piece. What Liverpool did well and what they didn’t do well.
Some fans would’ve preferred to see the diamond return, personally I like the three at the back formation as it means we’ll play wing-backs and by default actually have width in the team. Something we’ve been severely lacking lately. With width added it not only gives Liverpool and out ball but it also creates space in the centre as teams can’t be as compact as they would usually. It also gives Liverpool the opportunity to overload the wide positions. There were examples of this against Norwich in which Alberto Moreno was instrumental. Quite the turnaround when you consider there were rumours he was going to be sold in August. Another positive is by playing three at the back you don’t really need to play a holding midfielder, especially when you consider Liverpool lined up with two ball playing centre-backs in Emre Can and Mamadou Sakho.
Phil Coutinho is in a familiar position for all Liverpool fans. Normally, with Liverpool lacking width, he’s forced to cut infield and dribble into traffic. If he manages to escape the three Norwich players in his proximity then he gets a shot away from distance. It can be a little predictable from time to time.
However, with the inclusion of Moreno, Liverpool had an outlet down the left throughout the match and this meant Coutinho was afforded a lot more time and space. You can see the apprehension in Stephen Whittaker’s play. The Norwich right-back would usually double up on Coutinho when he picks the ball up here but with Moreno threatening it means Whittaker is cautious to engage Coutinho and he doesn’t push wide to Moreno either. He’s in limbo.
With Liverpool finally playing a left footed player with pace on their left there is always a chance he can beat the right-back on the outside. Instantly adds another dimension to the Liverpool attack. In the stills above you see Liverpool square up Whittaker before playing the ball inside to Coutinho.
This is where Moreno’s pace comes into play. Alex Tetty wants to square Coutinho up but at the same time he’s the shielding midfield and needs to protect his full-backs, in this case Whittaker if Coutinho plays the ball inside of the Norwich full-back for Moreno to get in one-on-one. Moreno carrying on his run also affords Coutinho a lot of space (highlighted in red) in a position we’ve seen him do plenty of damage in.
Liverpool, this season so far, for various reasons haven’t been able to overload teams. Whether it be due to ball circulation or just not having players in position it’s not been something we’ve seen as fans. That changed against Norwich though due to the inclusion of wing-backs. Nathanial Clyne is just off screen in the above image. He’s passed the ball to Sturridge who’d dropped in-between the lines to receive the ball. Milner is making a run off of Robbie Brady who also has to keep an eye on Clyne. That’s three Liverpool players within 20 yards of one another so Norwich are concentrating their efforts on this side of the pitch understandably.
Sturridge drifts inside and due to being quick on the ball Liverpool have Coutinho and Moreno free on the left hand side. The overload is there. If you look at Tetty in the middle for Norwich he doesn’t know what day of the week it is. He’s not sure whether to go to Ings who has taken up a superb position on the edge of the D or push wide to Coutinho. Likewise Whittaker is unsure where to go. Moreno could be a dummy run. In this instance Sturridge passes to Phil who puts his shot over but he was afforded so much time due to the fact Liverpool overloaded the left hand side.
These are the positives of the formation but with the personnel selected there were plenty of negatives to be seen. Specifically the central midfield pairing. In a 343 formation you’re playing with two players in midfield. You nullify the need for a defensive midfielder by playing three centre-backs but for added security you could have a holding midfielder in there. If you did have a Lucas type playing and recycling the ball then the other central midfielder has to be creative. Liverpool didn’t have that and it meant more often than not the centre-backs were kicking the ball long and missing the midfield out, it’s not a way to build play.
There were instances in the match early on when Coutinho was dropping deeper to collecting the ball and start attacks. This screenshot in particular shows the little Brazilian flicking the ball first time to Moreno having received the pass from Mamadou Sakho. Norwich had a press on Liverpool yet literally 2 passes had Liverpool into the Norwich half. They bypassed the press due to the direct, creative nature of Coutinho. Had that been Milner in the position Coutinho was in you’d have seen him play the ball back to Lucas. Simple, safe and ineffective.
The next shot shows Moreno clipping the ball into the path of Christan Benteke with James Milner in support. This attack fizzles out but this could be a tactic Liverpool could use if Brendan Rodgers shows some bravery and plays Roberto Firmino in the 10 and Coutinho a little deeper. Firmino has natural goalscoring instincts when you compare him to Milner and Coutinho so why are we sacrificing that? Liverpool could play three centre-backs, Lucas beside Coutinho with Firmino as a floating 10 and Liverpool don’t lose much, do they? If anything they improve their midfield and attack.