Why the switch in formation makes sense by Brendan Rodgers
Everyone reading this blog I would like to assume has played Football Manager, FIFA or Pro Evo. You will of sat in front of that screen messing around with your team formation to try and get the best result possible. Me? I use to love the 4-1-3-2 on Championship Manager 01/02. Absolutely loved it because my 3 midfielders used to boss any game. It meant that Kabba Samura (You will know what I mean if you are a CM fan) could score over 50 goals a season with ease. Over the years that formation has changed and the less I played Championship Manager and the more I played FIFA that formation changed to a 4-4-2 diamond to a 4-1-3-2 to 3-4-1-2.
The 3-4-1-2 formation, looking at it on paper does look very strange. It’s always mad when you see teams lining up with 3 at the back, as it is not the “norm”. When I play online and the opponent sees my formation they always comment. “What am I playing?” and “That formation is insane” In fact a certain @Putitinthemixer was so amused he stopped talking! Only for a minute mind as he then went on back to rambling on.
My simple and quick answer to the FIFA questions is, “To get an extra body in midfield and attack”. The real reason and longer answer is that I was shocking on FIFA when I first started playing in 2008. I checked on Google for “The best FIFA tactics” and read this amazing blog that recommended this formation and gave me detailed tactics on how to crack FIFA. However I like to keep that to myself when I’m playing online as I’m smashing the opponent.
What I have found funny the last few weeks is that Brendan Rodgers and his coaching staff team have now adopted “My” FIFA formation into real life and into the first team. I must admit I’m presently surprised that this has happened and after listening to “The Anfield Wrap” and “Bib Theorists” dissect it I wanted to drop my opinion into the mix on why it is working and how it is the perfect formation for our current setup.
On deadline day Liverpool went out and bought Sakho and Llori and managed to keep hold of Skrtel. This meant that in the first team squad they now had 8 players who play centre back (You can have fun your selves pointing out who these are NOTE: Coates is injured but I counted him in there). With the injuries to Cissokho against Northampton in the cup and Johnson to Manchester United in the league, coupled with Wisdom’s poor form. It was starting to look obvious that our weaknesses were going to be in cover at fullback. Hence why against Southampton Liverpool lined up with four of those centre backs in defence. This game as we know was shocking.
The Red Men looked flat, unadventurous and very narrow because Sakho and Toure couldn’t add the creative element that Enrique and Johnson provided in our 4-2-3-1 formation. By reverting to a 3-4-1-2 formation it has instantly solved this problem by having three defenders who all look comfortable playing there. They are backed up with two energetic wingbacks that mean that when the opposition attack our defence isn’t being pulled out of position.
By using Sakho, Skrtel and Toure as the three, Liverpool are very fortunate to have that flexibility to quickly resort to four at the back in game if needed.
There may be times at Anfield when the opposing team setup with only one forward with the rest of the team camped in their own half. So by having that option it means that Toure can join the attack as he did against Crystal Palace at the weekend.
One stand out player this season has been Martin Skrtel. It was well documented that after the Oldham game he had a massive falling out with Rodgers and was sparingly used after then until the Man Utd game this season. All summer Skrtel looked surplus to requirement because of his inability to be a ball-playing centre back. Even though his defending form has been great, you could see against Southampton that when under pressure all he could do was pass the ball back to Mignolet who in turn would clear up front and more often then not Liverpool would loose the ball. However in this new formation, having the backup of Toure to his right and Sakho to his left all he needs to do is pass the ball sideways. Liverpool keep the ball moving and more importantly don’t loose possession by having to go back to the keeper.
The stats from both the Sunderland and Palace game reflects that
A major question will be when Agger is fit, where does he come back in. I argue that until a player gets injured/suspended or loses form, why bring Agger in? Competition in defence is something we have not had for a while, and Agger will benefit from knowing he isn’t a guaranteed starter week in week out even when playing poorly.
In attack with the return of Suarez, Rodgers had to make a decision. Was he going to bring Luis back into the 4-2-3-1 formation as the main forward and move Sturridge, or was he going to bring him into the three behind him and hope that Suarez would provide that creative spark for Sturridge in Coutinho’s absence.
By having the two up top it has enabled both players to be in goal scoring opportunities and doing what they do best, putting the ball in the back of the net. Most teams now employ one forward up top with players buzzing in and around and running from deep. This was designed to confuse defenders and drag them out of position. However with many teams now reacting to this and bringing in a static DM to protect the back four, you are starting to see the two up topless and less.
With Liverpool going 3-4-1-2 on back of the last three games, the opposition defences are once again having problems adapting to have two players constantly in their face. You can see quite clearly that if they manage to nullify the threat of Sturridge; they then had Suarez hanging around on the 6-yard box moving players all over the place and finding space to get a strike in on goal. In the last three games Suarez is on three goals and Sturridge is on two. Not a bad return at all.
With the 3-4-1-2 formation, it is also not essential with Coutinho being in the team. In the one behind the two we now have Moses, Allen, Alberto or Henderson who can play there. All these players are more then capable of helping link the midfield to the attack. Of course none of them have the eye for the pass that Coutinho has, but it just means that if Coutinho is not in the team it is not the end of the world. Going back to the Southampton game, without PC in there pulling the strings in the 4-2-3-1 our team looked devoid of ideas and it badly affected our play.
Moving on to the two central midfielders the 3-4-1-2 favors Gerrard and Lucas more then having only two defenders behind them. Also having that third player in the midfield that can drop back and help out the two deep lying midfielders it also means that there is that extra body in midfield which isn’t there when you line up with two forwards normally.
We all know that both Gerrard and Lucas are lacking in the legs department, when it gets to 60 minutes both look to tire very quickly. So by having the extra man behind them that can step out when needed to sweep up any quick breaks from the opponent it means that when Lucas is caught out of position we are not over exposed in defence. It will be interesting to see what Rodgers does for the Newcastle game. Henderson was my man of the match against Palace and you can see him performing week in, week out if given the chance to continue in there. Brendan hates to change a winning team. Saying that he also loves Lucas. So it will be telling to see what happens against Newcastle.
What has changed in the modern day game is that formations don’t stay the same all game. Modern thinking coaches put a team of 11 players out there and may line up with a certain formation to test out the first 15 minutes to see what the opposition are doing, however from there on in you will see it change constantly depending on how the game is shaping out. Especially with the way the Brendan Rodgers likes to see his football played you are seeing this more and more with his Liverpool team. The players that Liverpool are recruiting you can argue that everyone of them (Except Mignolet) can play in more then one position. Flexibility is a massive attribute that Rodgers and his committee team look for in a player. Hence why tactically rigid players like Carroll, Downing, Shelvey and Cole have been shown the door.
On the Anfield Wrap podcast @Knox_Harrington pointed out that in the Sunderland game to start with it was unclear how Liverpool were setup. This in itself is a great trick to have up your sleeve because if the fans in the stadium don’t see what is going on, then you know that the opposition manager and his staff are sat there in the dug out guessing the same. As long as the Liverpool players going out there know how to line up and know their roles, (Which wasn’t obvious under Kenny and Clarke at times) then that is the main thing.
Finally, using the 3-4-1-2 formation it re-opens the door to Borini and Aspas to play in positions that suit them better. Neither of them suits the wide role or number 10 role. However being able to come into the Liverpool team and play alongside another forward would suit them both down to the ground and you can now see a defined role in the team for both of them.
I really recommend at this point you go and read the excellent blog by @support_believe on @Thisisanfield . He highlights these points in much more detail and with a certain degree of insight in to what actually is happening at Melwood.
Everything is fitting into place really well with this new 3-4-1-2 formation; you can’t help but think that this was the plan all along by Rodgers. Looking at our competition for the Champions League places, Liverpool probably has the 6th strongest squad in the league. To jump those extra few places you need to be lucky with injuries, get the decisions at the right times in games and also have a unique system where you can get that extra 10% needed from your players. With the 3412 formation, Brendan Rodgers may have just stumbled across that unique edge that gets Liverpool back into the Champions League next season.
It has taken me 1875 characters to explain this blog, knowing my luck the bastard will resort back to the 4231 formation against Newcastle………
Written by guest author Mark Simpson. Follow him @mrmarksimpson