Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool of last season has always been associated with high pressing and a “fast and furious” style of play. Quick counter-attacks and penetrative passes allowed Liverpool to thrash teams, the most notable being the 5-1 beating that they dished out to Arsenal at Anfield last season. This high press is arguably the fundamental reason to Liverpool’s push for the title.
How Brendan Rodgers stumbled onto this tactic is interesting. At Swansea and during his early days at Liverpool, Rodgers was always known for patient build up play and liked to keep possession of the ball. His purchase of Joe Allen after his move to Liverpool is proves as evidence to this.
Many people like to think that Brendan Rodgers stumbled across this tactic of a high press, because of Luis Suarez. Suarez defended from the front by pressing the opposition back-line and not allowing them time on the ball. This became a feature of Liverpool’s game and the energetic trio of Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez chased down back passes and would hassle defenders.
Midfielders Jordan Henderson, Phillipe Coutinho and at times, Joe Allen would also press very high up the pitch. Brendan Rodgers took advantage of the energy used to press whilst defending as well, planning to counter-attack as soon as the ball was won.
Once Liverpool had possession in their own half, Sterling would move laterally to help pick up the ball, whilst the other attacking players pushed forward, shown by the picture below.
With Suarez’ departure and Sturridge’s injury this season, Brendan Rodgers has found it difficult to use the tactics that took Liverpool so close last season.
However, if you sign players like Rickie Lambert and Mario Balotelli – who have been slow and lethargic and not the most energetic – you should expect that you cannot play the same kind of football. This brings to question Rodgers’ judgements and his ability to sign the right players.
Recently, due to injury and a run of bad results, Rodgers has been playing without a recognizable striker in a 3-4-3 formation. I believe that if Brendan Rodgers plays this right, he could turn around Liverpool’s season. This is because the 3-4-3 formation is a counter-attacking formation by nature.
When Liverpool broke with the ball last season, midfielder made penetrative runs into the opposition half, whilst the forwards stretched the back line with their runs, often into the wide areas. With the 3-4-3 formation, Liverpool can easily overload these wide areas and the opposition full-backs and cause confusion amongst centre-backs and full-backs as to who is marking who.
The 3-4-3 also offers pressing. The front three could press the centre-backs whilst the wide men of the midfield four could press the full-backs. If Rodgers wants to do this right however, he needs to select the right players and give players specific roles for the section of the pitch they are playing in.
The front three need to be the most energetic as they defend from the front. Sterling, Coutinho and Borini should make up the front three currently, and Daniel Sturrdige should replace the latter when he returns from injury.
When Sturridge returns, Coutinho and Sterling have to be on either side of him. They are clever players that will be in the space Jonathan Wilson calls, “that awkward pocket of space between the full-back, centre-back and midfielder.”
Sterling and Coutinho should be able to take advantage of this space to their full ability. Liverpool have many options for the wide midfielders, but I personally would go with Lazar Markovic and Adam Lallana, as they offer creativity in going forward.
The centre of midfield should be made up of Jordan Henderson and Lucas Leiva. Lucas will offer reliable defensive cover and Henderson’s energy will be useful in winning the ball back.
The back three need to be well-disciplined and physically dominant but Liverpool have little choice and so Rodgers would have to set up with Martin Skrtel, Mamadou Sahko and Dejan Lovren as his back three.
Defensively, Rodgers may have to consider maybe putting more defensively oriented players like Glen Johnson or Jose Enrique in the wide spots in the midfield four as Markovic and Lallana may struggle to cope with the defensive duties of this formation. This formation will also take a lot of work on the training ground and requires discipline and tactical awareness.
Rodgers will also need to be able to form a Plan B if a team decides to play direct football against Liverpool, as direct football prevents counter-attacks and being pressed at the back line. Chelsea and Crystal Palace played this way against Liverpool last season, in the two games that lost Liverpool the title.
The new formation may not bring a title challenge similar to last year, but if Brendan Rodgers picks the right players and can discipline his team, this new formation could aid Liverpool in the turn of the new year.