Why the switch in formation makes sense for Liverpool FC

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Mark Simpson is a big fan of the new 3-4-1-2 formation – can it give Liverpool FC that extra 10% edge required to force in the top four?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 21, 2013: Liverpool's manager Brendan Rodgers during the Premiership match against Southampton at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

WARNING: This article mentions Football Manager!

The likelihood is that you have played at least one of Football Manager, FIFA or Pro Evo. You will have sat in front of that screen messing around with your team formation to try and get the best result possible.

Me? I used to love the 4132 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 442 diamond to a 4132 to 3412.

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.”

My simple and quick answer is, “to get an extra body in midfield and attack”.

Brendan Rodgers and his coaching staff team have now adopted this 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 The 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 eight players who play centre-back.

With the injuries to Aly Cissokho and Glen Johnson, coupled with Wisdom’s poor form. It was starting to look obvious that our weaknesses were going to be in cover at full-back. Hence why against Southampton Liverpool lined up with four of those centre-backs in defence. 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 4231 formation.

By changing to a 3412 formation it has instantly solved this problem by having three defenders who all look comfortable playing there. They are backed up with two energetic wing-backs that means that when the opposition attack our defence isn’t being pulled out of position.

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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:

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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.

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Skrtel

One stand out player this season has been Martin Skrtel. 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:

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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.

Attack

By having the two up top it has enabled both Suarez and Sturridge 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, with players buzzing in and around and running from deep. This was designed to confuse defenders and drag them out of position.

With Liverpool going 3412 on back of the last three games, the opposition defences are once again having problem adapting to having two players constantly in their face. You can see quite clearly that if they manage to nullify the threat of Sturridge; they then have Suarez hanging around on the 6-yard box moving players all over the place and finding space to get a strike in on goal. Five goals in three games between them isn’t a bad return.

With the 3412 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 than 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 Coutinho in there pulling the strings in the 4231 our team looked devoid of ideas and it badly affected our play.

Midfield

Moving on to the two central midfielders the 3412 favours Gerrard and Lucas more than 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.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, May 19, 2013: Liverpool's Lucas Leiva in action against Queens Park Rangers during the final Premiership match of the 2012/13 season at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

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 every one of them can play in more then one position. Flexibility is a massive attribute that Rodgers and his committee 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 recently, it was 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.

Everything is fitting into place really well with this new formation; you can’t help but wonder whether this was the plan all along?

Looking at our competition for the Champions League places, Liverpool probably have the sixth strongest squad in the league. To jump those extra few places you need to be lucky with injures, 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 this formation, Rodgers may have just stumbled across that unique edge that gets Liverpool back into the Champions League next season.

Having said all that, knnowing my luck we’ll resort back to the 4231 formation against Newcastle!

Mark Simpson

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