Last season Brendan Rodgers experimented with a lot of formations, but towards the end seemed to settle for a 3-5-2. This seemed to be relatively effective, and
put in some great performances, going unbeaten in their last eight Premier
League matches. However, Rodgers has made some additions to the squad, so will
the formation need to be tweaked?
Firstly, I must make it clear that all formations need to be flexible. If each player stuck rigidly to their assigned position, there would be no fluency, and the team would also become extremely predictable. That said, formations are a very important part of the game, and it is crucial to find the one that best suits the club. The 3-5-2 we settled upon last season was quite effective, as it moved Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique into more advanced positions, encouraging them to push forward without having to constantly worry about tracking back. However, now Carragher has retired, it would be quite hard to play this system. It uses 3 centre-backs, and currently Daniel Agger is the only one I have genuine faith in. Skrtel is extremely error-prone, and Coates is still very young. Martin Kelly has potential, but he seems too susceptible to injury to be a viable option, and (though he has played centre-back in the past) is a full-back by trade. For the 3-5-2 to continue to work for
Rodgers would probably have to make two quality signings at centre-back. There
were strong rumours linking us to Papadopolous, but recently they have cooled
slightly. As such, it seems a new formation may be the way forward.
One possibility is the 4-4-2. It is not the most adventurous formation, and a lot of people discount it due to the fact that it is so widely used, but there must be a reason why it has proved so popular over the years. It suits our squad better than the 3-5-2, in that it only requires 2 centre-backs, and also provides cover in the wide areas of defence in the shape of two full-backs. However, it does have its drawbacks. The success or failure of the formation hangs largely around the performance of the two central midfielders, who are forced to be both positive in attack and also good at tracking back, providing cover for the defence. This is a lot for two people to manage at the best of times, but if either of them have an off-day the whole team tends to fall apart. In our team the central midfielders would most likely be Gerrard and one of Henderson, Coutinho, or Lucas. None of these players are naturally central midfielders, and due to this I don’t think this formation is right for
Another option is the 4-5-1. In terms of the defence and midfield, this takes the best from both the 3-5-2 and the 4-4-2. It only requires two centre-backs, and provides wide threats in the form of wingers. However, there is still the problem of central midfielders. As I mentioned previously,
Liverpool have no real out-and-out
central midfielders (except perhaps Joe Allen), and this formation requires
three. Of course, players such as Henderson, Coutinho and Lucas are
good enough to adapt, but nobody plays to their full potential in an un-natural
position. Also, as the three central midfielders have to consider tracking
back, they aren’t usually committed too far up the pitch, which leaves the lone
striker very isolated. Consequently, I think the best formation for us next
season is a variation on the 4-5-1.
I am referring to the 4-2-3-1. It is clearly similar to the 4-5-1; however it is different in some key ways. Instead of three central midfielders, it uses two central defensive midfielders and one central attacking. This solves almost all the issues of the previous formations. The central attacking midfielder no longer has to worry about tracking back due to the cover of the two defensive midfielders. The two wide players (one of whom will potentially be new signing Iago Aspas, a right forward) can also stay high up the pitch. Because of this, the lone striker is no longer isolated, as he has the support of the three advanced midfielders. It is not, however, perfect. Lucas is naturally a defensive midfielder, but Gerrard is not. He would have to adapt slightly to play in a more holding role. He is very versatile and could of course manage this, although it is not ideal. On top of this there is Coutinho, who, were another attacking midfielder to come, would be shifted out to the left. He has played in this position before and is still extremely effective, but not quite as deadly as he would be in his natural position of central attacking midfielder.
Although the 4-2-3-1 requires that two minor compromises be made, it still seems by far and away the best formation for
Liverpool next season. It allows
the majority of the team to play in their natural positions, and allows the
attacking midfielders (and also, to an extent, the full backs) freedom to roam
whilst still providing cover in the shape of the two defensive midfielders. If
Rodgers can get this system working for us next season, it has the potential to
be mightily effective.
Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013