Sunday, 28 July 2013

What Formation Should Liverpool Play Next Season?

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 Liverpool 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 Liverpool, 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 Liverpool.

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.
-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Coutinho: A Big Season Ahead

PictureAs soon as he arrived in January from Inter Milan, Phillippe Coutinho became a hit at Liverpool. His dazzling performances on the pitch delighted fans, in particular his superb vision and passing. Many people are suggesting he may be Liverpool’s key player in the coming season, but can he live up to the expectations?

From what we’ve seen of him so far in a Liverpool shirt, I would have to say yes. He has shown sublime talent, and at the age of just 21 is already one of the best players in our team. His ability to create chances is second to none, and there is nobody in our team better than he is at picking a pass. This talent is crucial to Liverpool, which is what makes Coutinho such an important part of our future. Before his arrival, there was nobody in our team capable of consistently coming up with ‘killer balls’, that seamlessly split open the opposition’s defence. With him in the side, our attackers can play each match in the knowledge that chances will come their way, and often be put on a plate for them. This results in more goals, which are the key to more victories.

He has also shown immense versatility, something often lacking in younger players. After a couple of games for Liverpool, at looked as if he’d been playing there all his life! He adapted to our style of play extremely quickly, and also gelled with the rest of the team at once. As well as this, he has shown that he is able to perform well in multiple positions. Though best in a central attacking role, he has also been very effective in a wider position. With such a vast amount of good midfielders at the club all fighting for a spot in the first team, the ability to play in multiple positions is invaluable.

However, it must be remembered that Coutinho has been at Liverpool for less than half a season, and has started just 11 Premier League matches for the club. When Nikica Jelavic signed for Everton last January, he had an immediate impact, and was arguably their best player for the remainder of the season. However, in the 2012/13 season he was a complete flop, failing to make an impact at all. Although all the signs point towards Coutinho being a valuable asset for us next season, we have not yet seen enough of him to judge whether his form from last season is permanent.

Saying this, I think it is very unlikely that Coutinho will fade in the coming season. Jelavic is an out-and-out striker, and when Everton made some positional changes he was unable to adapt. Coutinho’s versatility allows him to adapt to the team around him, meaning he should be able to continue his good form from last season. If he does this, there is no question that he will be key for Liverpool. Indeed, when his ability to create chances and his individual skill on the ball is considered, it is not implausible to suggest that he will be the focal point of our team in 2013/14.
-James Martin
Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Shelvey to Swansea- Good Deal?

Today, Liverpool announced the sale of midfielder Jonjo Shelvey to Swansea City. The fee is believed to be £6million. A lot of people are happy to see the back of Shelvey, but many others believe that he has a very promising future, and we shouldn’t have let him go.

Personally, I’m thrilled with Shelvey’s departure. Although he did show some potential when he played for us, there are clear flaws to his game. Firstly, he is extremely selfish. Often we would see him squander a good opportunity by going for an ambitious long shot when a pass would have been the better option. Admittedly we have seen him score some stunning goals from long range, particularly at under-21 level, but more often than not they don’t meet their intended target. This wastefulness and selfishness is evident in his goals/assists statistics. Despite playing 47 Premier League games for Liverpool, he only managed to score twice, and didn’t get a single assist. Although this will most likely improve a little as he matures as a player, selfishness is a trait that is hard to ever fully shake off.

Also, and perhaps more importantly, Shelvey is very much surplus to requirements. At Liverpool, we have a wealth of talented midfielders. Jordan Henderson, Joe Allen, Phillipe Coutinho, Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva all occupy central positions, and at the moment they are all better than Shelvey. On top of this, Liverpool are trying to bring in Heinrich Mkhitaryan, who also plays in a central attacking role. Even without Mkhitaryan, Shelvey was still a 6th choice midfielder at Liverpool, so to get 6 million pounds for him is a very good bit of business.

Some would argue that Shelvey would have grown into a regular starter for us, but this suggestion is flawed. Shelvey is 21 years old, which, though young, is not much younger than most of our regular midfield starters. Of the six players mentioned above, only Gerrard is over the age of 26. This puts Shelvey in direct competition with all of them. Brendan Rodgers is building a squad for the future, and this is apparent in the midfield. Nobody would argue that Shelvey is as good as Coutinho, and yet they are the same age. Coutinho is good enough to make our first team already, and hopefully has a great career at Liverpool ahead of him. There is simply no point ‘investing in the future’ and holding on to players who show a few signs of potential if we have players the same age as them who are already good enough to make the first team!

Shelvey is not a bad player, and I’m sure he will improve with time. However, there are flaws in his game, and he cannot compete with the rest of our midfield. I wish him all the best at Swansea, but I don’t think we need him at Liverpool, and now we can invest the six million pounds in areas of the squad that actually do need strengthening.
-James Martin
Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013