With the dust finally settling on the 2016/17 season, it was a successful season for Liverpool, finishing in 4th place and therefore qualifying for the Champions League.
The Reds thus achieved their preliminary pre-season objective of Champions League qualification, which could be classed as a good season for the Reds. However, a problem that threatened to completely derail Jurgen Klopp’s side throughout the season was tactical issues.
Many cited this as a potential reason for Liverpool failing to sustain their title challenge throughout the course of the season – with many criticising manager Jurgen Klopp for a lack of plan B without potent strikers in the side.
So, in this piece, I will explore formation(s) that we could see next season..
The 4-4-2 Diamond (Against Deep Block)
The team above shows how Liverpool predominantly lined up in the 4-4-2 diamond last season. Although this mainly featured in the last two games of the season, given the defensive stability it seems to have given the team coupled with its attacking potency, it is likely Klopp could give the 4-4-2 diamond another crack going into next season.
After several one-dimensional performances which badly exposed the frailties with Liverpool’s conventional 4-3-3 system towards the turn of the year, many fans were calling for a change of formation. Some were calling for a back three formation, whilst some preferred a 4-4-2 diamond.
We finally got a glimpse of how the 4-4-2 diamond would leave Liverpool lining up, starting with the 4-0 win away at West Ham in the penultimate match of the season.
Klopp persisted with the back four – but made several changes to the midfield. With captain Jordan Henderson missing the final three months of the season with a foot injury, Emre Can was brought into the defensive midfield role to fill the void. Philippe Coutinho, naturally a wide playmaker in Klopp’s 4-3-3 system, was moved into the midfield three.
Adam Lallana was also moved slightly further forward than usual – despite proving fairly ineffectual further up the pitch. Roberto Firmino & Daniel Sturridge partnered each other up top.
Jurgen Klopp isn’t the first manager to experiment with this formation; Brendan Rodgers most notably used the diamond in the extraordinary 2013/14 season which nearly saw Liverpool crowned champions. The system does have its weaknesses, of course, but the perks comfortably outweigh those.
How Does It Work?
The diamond is predominantly a variation of the flat, rigid 4-4-2. The 4-4-2 formation was very popular in the early 2000s, but has somewhat gone out of fashion nowadays
The diamond is more flexible than a rigid 4-4-2 system – whilst the latter offers more defensive protection than the diamond, it provides many attacking benefits and avoids falling into the trap of being outnumbered by the opposition in terms of the midfield.
The 4-4-2 diamond can be deployed as either as a wide 4-1-2-1-2 formation which sees midfielders pushed further wide than usual – and the narrow 4-1-2-1-2 which sees them act as central midfielders instead.
Now, the concerns lie with a lack of width. This has been a concern associated with the diamond formation for some time – and many were cautious about this particular drawback of the formation. However, it has actually solved Liverpool’s problems with width.
Well, this invariably has something to do with the spacing of the No. 8s. Whilst not pushing the No. 8s extraordinarily wide, he has ensured that they aren’t too narrow to the No. 6, which eradicates fears regarding narrow central play and lack of width.
The formation has also got the best out of several senior players in the squad – just ask Philippe Coutinho or Daniel Sturridge
Although Coutinho does usually function as a winger in the 4-3-3, he has been proved to have been even more effective in deeper roles against deep-block sides. For example, look at the 2013/14 season. There were many games in which Coutinho’s creative influence in midfield was vital to breaking low block sides down. He brings guile as well as creative passing from deep in Henderson’s absence – which was most notable against West Ham. He looks reborn in his deeper role.
Sturridge was one who struggled to get to grips with Jurgen Klopp’s 4-3-3 formation earlier in the season (bar the Leicester game at home early in the season). This is partially due to him having to play isolated – it has been proven in the past that the Englishamn thrives off support as he lacks the mobility to play as a lone striker. The formation change was a blessing for him, as it gave him a strike partner for him to wreck CBs with. He can drop deep interchange with the likes of Roberto Firmino – ideally if the latter is playing off the front two.
However, the system’s problems come in hand with the defence – a versatile, physical central defender is needed along with a full-back with a good end product that can act like an engine down the flanks as well as generally defensive capability. The likes of Virgil Van Dijk/Kalidou Koulibaly seem to fit the bill perfectly, as does Faouzi Ghoulam/Benjamin Mendy.
To conclude, this formation would be very effective against deep-block sides due to the likes of Coutinho being able to exert their creativity from midfield – and would work to greater effect with another forward/central midfielder
The 4-3-3 (Against ‘Top 6’)
The team above shows how the Reds usually lined up in the formation last season.
The 4-3-3 has been Klopp’s preferred formation since the start of last season – with an emphasis on pressing, interchanging, fluid attacking football. This destroyed many teams at the start of the season which laudably deployed an attacking game against the Reds; a great run of form saw Klopp’s side top the table in early November.
This was wholly effective up until the turn of the year – this coincided with Sadio Mane’s absence through the African Cup Of Nations. Mane, who won Liverpool’s POTY award for last season, was sorely missed. The lack of depth in the side was severely exposed, as the side went through an appalling run of form.
This also exposed several frailities in the system – as Liverpool prefer central play, opposition simply overloaded the midfield and central areas; forcing Liverpool into wide areas. As the Reds lacked any kind of end product out wide, it was easy to defend balls from wide angles. Therefore, for this system to work, a full-back and a winger with a good end product is needed, as well as pace.
The 4-3-3 can still be effective vs the top 6 – as this pressing game can overturn many a team. This could see Wijnaldum return to the midfield and Coutinho to return to his customary playmaker wide role – as this would allow a good balance of energy, intelligent runs, hunger and pressing. It’s not to say this system cannot be effective with the right personnel.
With the right contingency options, there’s no reason to suggest the 4-3-3 or the 4-4-2 diamond won’t work well for Liverpool next season. If a left-back, centre-back, central midfielder, winger and an out-and-out striker is signed for next season, this will make the problems associated with both formations easier to combat. If the right signings are made, the 4-4-2 diamond should be the way to go against sides which set up to deploy a defensive game against Liverpool next season. For the games against bigger outfits, the 4-3-3 could stay put.