Swansea, Spain or Barca? Discussing Liverpool’s attacking style

Liverpool’s lack of forwards and terrible conversion rate in front of goal have been much discussed and documented, here we take a look at Brendan Rodgers’ front three system itself and how various players can fit into it.

Raheem Sterling
Raheem Sterling scored his first goal for Liverpool yesterday as he linked well with Suarez. The 17 year old played more centrally during periods of the game, with Glen Johnson pushing on from left back to provide width.

The System

This is perhaps the hardest part of the team to understand Rodgers’ vision of. The three examples of Rodgers’ footballing philosophy that come to mind are Swansea, Barcelona, and Spain.

Swansea is the most pertinent example of Rodgers’ ideas for the forwards because, well, it was his team. He used two wide forwards (Sinclair and Dyer, and to a lesser extent Routledge) with plenty of pace and trickery. Both were like a slightly more developed Sterling, perhaps like Assaidi as well. They were both clearly wide forwards, rather than wingers, and although they did come back to help out defensively, they were clearly forwards rather than wingers. This gave them plenty of penetration by using the creativity coming through midfield to release the quick forwards. Rodgers’ center forward at Swansea was Danny Graham. Curiously, he’s more in the mold of Carroll or Dzeko than Borini or Suarez. Perhaps this was a case of Rodgers using what he had at his disposal.

Barcelona is surely the least likely option for us to replicate. They have this player named Messi and he’s kind of special. On a serious note, Barça employ an attacking formation commonly referred to as a ‘false nine’. In their three man forward line, the wide forwards pinch middle to take up the space left by their centre forward, who drops deep into midfield. This could be employed here. Suarez routinely drops deep to influence play in the midfield and our wingers pinch in to take up the space and make runs. However, for the false nine to work here, our forwards would need to become much more clinical. Suarez would need to finish much more of his chances and there would be a large burden on the midfield and wide forwards to score quite a few goals. This is a bit unrealistic. We simply don’t have the shooting ability to pull it off.

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers

Spain is, in my opinion, what we should model our forward line on. When Spain have opted to use a forward recently, they’ve used a clinical type finisher along with two midfielders played as wide forwards. We have recently seen Soldado, Villa, and Torres fill the 9 role for the Spanish national team. They’re all able to link up play to some degree, but instead of dropping deep like Messi or playing as an English centre forward (Graham) they make smart runs and rely on the midfielders and wide forwards to play through balls or ground crosses. The wide forwards, then, are used both to thread through balls from the midfield, create out wide with dribbling skills and ground crossing, and create chances for themselves to score. We’ve seen Iniesta, Fabregas, Silva, Mata, Pedro, Navas, Cazorla and others play this role. We have players that can do the same (Suso, Assaidi, Sterling). What this system relies on, though, is a strong finisher through the middle.

Here we have five well defined positions across the forward line. Wide left, wide right, English center forward (which we’ll ignore, since we have nobody who can fill that position with Carroll gone), false nine, and Soldado/Bent type finisher.

The Personnel

Luis Suarez: Undoubtedly a world class player, his finishing only really seems to be present at Carrow Road. He can play any position across the forward line. His creative instincts and lack of consistent finishing lead me to believe he’s best suited out wide, particularly on the right as he plays there with Uruguay.

Luis Suarez

Fabio Borini: Has been taking some criticism lately for his lack of goals. We’re told he can play on the wings, but he’s definitely best through the middle. Has good movement and could potentially be the Soldado type player we crave. I really think the criticism is unfounded and he’s likely to score plenty when he gets back from injury. Has a great motor and apparently doesn’t mind playing through injury.

Raheem Sterling: A special talent, fearless, pacy, uses his small body pretty well to hold off much larger defenders. A dream with the ball at his feet, he’s well suited to the left wing position because he can cut in or cross left footed, he also performs well on the right. Doesn’t mind shooting. Might turn out to be a good finisher, judging by his goals against Leverkusen and Reading. Hopefully he doesn’t have to play so much and can be allowed to develop more slowly.

Suso: I’m convinced that he’s a midfielder, but Spain play with Silva on the wings and Suso seems to be Silva 2.0 to me. Great dribbling, fantastic passing, and doesn’t mind shooting, he’s lacking a bit in the pace department, but has plenty of agility. Is effective wide right, but I worry that we need someone who is in the box more often; Suso drifts into midfield.


Oussama Assaidi: I’ve been impressed so far, seems very similar to Sterling and has great work ethic. Quick, agile, good with the ball at his feet, he loves cutting in and delivering good crosses. Has been praised by former teammates for his creative ability and willingness to track back. Plays wide left (potentially right too?).

Samed Yesil: Young German forward who has 32 in 33 for the German U19 team. A technically proficient forward, he uses smart movement, good ball skills and clinical finishing to score bucketloads from a central position. Might get a chance because of the injury crisis, and I think he’d do well with it.

Dani Pacheco: Barça considered suing us for poaching him from their youth academy but his career has since stagnated. Good ball skills, nice passing and dribbling, he should be a tiki-taka managers dream but we haven’t seen it. Ineffective played centrally, he can certainly do a job on the wings and will be all over the pitch helping out defensively. I’m rooting for him.

Adam Morgan: Young English finisher reminiscent of Fowler, he’s less technically and physically gifted but has excellent positional sense (see Toronto goal). Scores the easy chances and rebounds, his skills could be used in the first team given the injury crisis.

Michael Ngoo: A strange prospect that’s a mix of Crouch and Balotelli, Ngoo has great pace, agility, and dribbling for a big man, but seemingly can’t head the ball. Creates loads of chances, but isn’t a great finisher, he’s able to use his strength, pace, and technical ability to befuddle defenders at the reserve level. Could get a chance to do so as a senior given the injury crisis.

Steven Gerrard: Rafa said that he saw Stevie become a striker later in his career because of his finishing ability, and I’m inclined to agree. I don’t think Stevie will want to move from central midfield and Rodgers won’t push him forward, but I think most of us fans would like to see it.

Jonjo Shelvey: Could be deployed as a wide forward the way the Spanish national team uses them, threading through balls and ground crosses. It would remove his penchant for making poor tackles in midfield and he knows where the goal is.

Joe Cole: If he’s not injured, he could potentially do a job on the wings. He’s actually been quite good so far this season, and could be used more since we’re so thin up front.

Stewart Downing: Is still a Liverpool player. Is capable of wearing a shirt and standing around on the right side of the pitch. Occasionally wins throw ins.

How it works here

Until January we’ll have to make do with what we have. I think ideally Rodgers would like to play the way the Spanish national team play. Danny Graham at Swansea was Rodgers using what he had and he likely realises he can’t run the false nine that Barça runs without Messi. Therefore, we’ll likely use quick wide forwards (Sterling, Assaidi) or midfielders who can thread balls as wide forwards (Suso, Shelvey) assisting a central striker who makes smart runs and finishes well (Borini, Yesil, Morgan).

We’re clearly missing a few players that we need to make the system tick, namely a Soldado-type center forward and a pacy, tricky right forward (Suarez?). However, we’re also not far from having a complete team. Clearly there’s a huge hole at centre forward at the moment, but we have options, and when we do find one we’ll likely have quite a good team.

Written by Andrew, aka OhYaBeauty

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