Liverpool are second in the Premier League table after their emphatic 3-1 win over managerless Sunderland. The Reds, inspired by Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, had far too much firepower for the Black Cats yesterday and never looked in real danger of surrendering their 2-0 half time lead.
For the second time in a week, Liverpool set-up in an unfamiliar 3-4-1-2 system. The formation has clearly been deployed with getting best from both of Liverpool’s star strikers in mind, for Sturridge and Suarez are both at their finest when leading the line.
With Suarez absent, Liverpool started the campaign resembling a much more cohesive, disciplined unit. Every player looked comfortable in their 4-2-3-1 system; well aware of their responsibilities from both an attacking and defensive standpoint. But with Suarez returning to the fold, there were questions about how Rodgers would usher the world-class, but free-spirited forward back into this increasingly pragmatic set-up. In the hole? Out wide?
But he has avoided that issue by utilizing the 3-4-1-2 system, and so far it looks like an inspired ploy. The Liverpool boss has found a tactical template in which both of his strikers can flourish
Playing as a front-two, with another player in behind as an attacking midfielder/number ten, it means that both strikers can go about their natural game without having to worry too much about defensive and positional duties. Suarez and Sturridge love to roam across the front-line, dragging defenders out of shape and creating space for teammates. Against Manchester United and more recently Sunderland they’ve been able to do not only that, but create space for each other to great effect.
It’s certainly a system that facilitates the freedom that both strikers crave, but looking at the players Liverpool have on their books, it’s a blueprint that seems to suit the vast majority of the squad.
The early indications Rodgers might go with this formation came with the club’s summer dealings, which saw three central defenders come in and none go out. Kolo Toure and Mamadou Sakho look comfortable operating on the right and left of the back three respectively. They are both steady in possession and capable of shuffling across if needed to cover the space left by the wingback’s offensive forays.
The players currently on the treatment table also look as though they’ll be able to slot seamlessly into this style once their back to full fitness. Philippe Coutinho looks an obvious candidate to play behind the two strikers. His ability to find space and link the midfield will give Liverpool even more fluency going forward. Plus, his incomparable vision and delectable through balls should have the Liverpool strike duo seeing much more of the ball in dangerous areas.
Liverpool’s other major absentee Glen Johnson looks a natural fit to play on the right hand side. Jordan Henderson has been doing a good job in this position and his energy certainly matches if not betters that of Johnson. But from an attacking perspective he just doesn’t have the same quality as the England full-back in those advanced, wide positions. The same goes for Aly Cissokho on the left, who would have certainly been providing stern competition for Jose Enrique, fitness permitting.
It gives the Reds a lot of options, that’s for sure, especially when the system can be so flexible. The three central defenders offer a numerical advantage when playing out from the back and provide reinforced defensive solidity in central areas. The two wing backs give the side great width and balance which is crucial when looking to build attacks from the back and stretch compact opposition.
But it can also be deployed with a view to counter attacking. In the main, the two forwards stay in advanced areas and are supported by the No.10. It means there are two, if not three outlets when looking to spring attacks from deep. Just look at Liverpool’s second goal yesterday:
Sturridge does superbly in the build up, but without a strike partner the England man would have had little on in terms of passing options. The presence of Suarez allowed his fellow forward to find space, isolate the defender and eventually put one on a plate for the Uruguayan.
Like any system, it has its downsides. The archetypal flaw with playing three defenders is that the team can often become overloaded in the wide areas. This is something that Manchester United managed to exploit in the latter stages of the recent league cup tie, and Sunderland also looked to utilize the space in these areas, particularly down Liverpool’s left-hand side. A better side would have perhaps made more of the positions they managed to engineer.
The midfield two could also pose something of an issue. Steven Gerrard and Lucas are both comfortable in possession, but could be issues against sides who pose a significant attacking threat in that area of the pitch. Playing a flat midfield four always leads you to be susceptible to players that can float between the lines too. It poses a problem, especially when neither of the aforementioned duo have been defensively switched on so far this season.
But at the moment Liverpool are getting the best out of their best two players by utilizing this shiny new system. Tougher tests will undoubtedly come, but if Rodgers can get the team into a groove, shore things up defensively and maintain that attacking flair, then they should be confident of taking on anyone.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments section or on Twitter: @MattJFootball