4-5-1: The answer to Liverpool's woes?
The 2014-15 campaign turned out to be a total disaster considering the heights the Reds achieved the previous season. Changes were inevitable and it all started with the backroom followed by the team.
The new boys have had a decently good pre-season. With the season of expectations ready to kick-off in a day, there is, however, one area that needs to be addressed – the formation.
Optimising strengths and weaknesses of players depends on how well a manager masters his formation. There is no doubt Brendan Rodgers is exceptionally good at that (the Stoke game was an aberration :P). Brendan has always favoured a back three but its weakness was exposed when opposing teams played a lone striker with a no.10 behind him which meant Rodgers employed three defenders to mark two players. This can be perceived as a player left unused or a player less in the midfield during counter attacks.
One solution to this problem can be the 4-5-1. The success of this formation lies in one mobile midfielder and a defensive midfielder who can also double up as a ball-playing centre-back. Liverpool have both in Emre Can and Jordan Henderson.
Let's consider an attacking scenario first:
Rodgers' attacking scenarios have always been amplified by his wingbacks. Phillipe Coutinho and Roberto Firminho can drift towards the centre with Nathanial Clyne and Alberto Moreno taking their respective positions on the wings. James Milner joins up front as support to complement the mobility and fluidity of Coutinho and Firminho. Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho drifts towards the spaces vacated by Clyne and Moreno with Can and Henderson holding the centre; Can performing as an auxiliary centre back.
Hence, from an attacking point of view Liverpool have three up front: Christian Benteke, Firminho and Coutinho; two on the wings: Clyne and Moreno; one behind the forwards: Milner; one holding the middle: Hendo one centre back: Can and finally, two full-backs: Skrtel and Sakho.
This should balance the attack and also provide enough cover to thwart any possible counterattacks either from the wings or from the centre.
During a defensive situation:
Lone forward and a no.10 with two from the wings:
A lone forward with an attacking midfielder and two through the wings mean a 4 vs 4 with Can shuttling between midfield and defence to provide extra cover. Coutinho and Milner mark the charging wingbacks. Hence, I am left with one man extra in midfield – Henderson - whom I can use for breaking away during counterattacks with Benteke and Firminho upfront.
Lone forward with two from the wings drifting in and two charging wingbacks:
This is effectively a 4-3-3 attacking scenario. Can falls behind as a central defender making it a 5 v 5 situation. Henderson and Milner shuttle between defence and midfield providing extra cover. Coutinho falls back and drifts in as extra midfielder to support counterattacks with Firminho and Benteke.
Two up front with two from the wings:
Against a 4-4-2, Can takes a central position with Hendo. Milner and Coutinho drift towards the wingbacks to mark them. Again, I am effectively left with one amongst Can and Hendo to be the extra man who is left with space during counter attacks.
The players Rodgers has at his disposal can definitely complement this formation. But the situation becomes tricky when Sturridge becomes fit. Coalescing Sturridge in this setup is a real challenge and Rodgers might shift to a diamond formation to accommodate both Benteke and Sturridge.
Also, one grey area that may come back to haunt Liverpool is Steven Gerrard. Attacking scenarios can be severely marred by the absence of a creative midfielder. Coutinho was brilliant last season but he was fairly inconsistent too. Brendan Rodgers has tried to plug this gap by signing experienced and big names but it still remains to be seen whether these big names can rise up to the occasions and deliver the goods when needed.
A balance between pragmatism and idealism is the answer to all success stories in football. One more day and the answers will start coming.