Suarez and Sturridge as Liverpool’s front two: The problem – and solution

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The use of the “3-5-2” formation may allow the lethal duo to play as a front-two, but it doesn’t suit the style of the overall team, Adam Griffies (@whatahitsonlfc) explains.

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - Sunday, September 29, 2013: Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge celebrates scoring the first goal against Sunderland with team-mate Luis Suarez during the Premiership match at the Stadium of Light. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Question Liverpool’s current formation and you will be scalded with the same, generic riposte almost every time, as if nobody is home and you’re listening to an automated answering machine: ‘It allows us to play Suarez and Sturridge as a front two.’

It does, but it also allows any good team, as we saw on Saturday evening, to dominate in midfield, manipulate us and exploit our disorder. Fans continue to defend the system though; it’s almost as though they believe the 3-5-2 is the only setup which accommodates the apparent footballing holy grail: two central strikers.

This was how we lined up against Arsenal. The shaded area highlights the gap between our midfielders and our isolated strikers:

aw1

Bringing Coutinho into the 3-5-2 would leave us just as unbalanced. The laboured Lucas and Gerrard would be overrun centrally.

aw3

Of course, it isn’t.

The 4-4-2 narrow diamond, 4-3-1-2 and 4-2-2-2 each incorporate a front two, while, crucially, offering more compactness than our present structure. The former is the system I think would most suit our squad at the moment, although, having written about it for This Is Anfield last month, I’ll refrain from explaining my reasons in detail again. What I will say though, is that the narrow diamond would befit our players’ qualities, whilst not compromising our overall playing style. This, for me, is a balance the 3-5-2 fails to strike; it is designed to suit individuals, not the team.

The most recent, high-profile, successful employer of the narrow diamond was Carlo Ancelotti with AC Milan last decade. The Italian utilised the athleticism and attacking talents of his full-backs, Cafu and Serginho, to provide offensive width and negate the need for wingers. This meant Milan could then deploy four central midfielders, to subsequently control the game in the middle, while still making room for the deadly strike duo, Hernan Crespo and Andriy Shevchenko. If you’re thinking along the same lines as me, you might already be noting the similarities between the players Ancelotti had available to him, and the crop Brendan Rodgers has; this resemblance of player types is ultimately why I’m convinced the narrow diamond could prove fruitful for the Reds, as it did for Milan.

aw_milan

Note the similarities between the players available to Ancelotti in the mid-2000s and Rodgers now; two attacking full-backs, a regista (deep-lying playmaker), two energetic central midfielders to do the regista’s leg work, a creative attacking midfielder and a fluent attacking duo.

If you’re still not siding with me, let me throw this whole ‘two strikers’ idealistic notion and dogmatism up in the air.

“Partnership”

Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge are two very, very good footballers and form an excellent on-field partnership. But what does that last word mean?

Isn’t it used to describe two players linking up? Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar have formed a potent attacking partnership, and, to avoid straying too far into rival territory without the authorisation of return, Jose Enrique and Luis Suarez combined uncannily at times last season. So my question is, do Sturridge and Suarez have to play as a front two to get the best out of each other and, most significantly, best suit the team?

Unequivocally, no they don’t.

Those of you that are unfortunately blinkered by the emphatic opinion that deploying two centre-forwards automatically makes a team more attacking, please bear with me as I try to explain.

Switching from 3-5-2 to 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 would allow us to replace one of our redundant centre-backs with a more offensive player, forming a fluid attacking quartet/trio, rather than the current isolated duo.

Having more technical players interchanging around midfield and attacking areas would ultimately see us control games better, have less defending to do and play with more precision than the random nature of our play in most games recently.

And if you think a more withdrawn role would result in Suarez being less influential you couldn’t be more wrong; he wouldn’t be ‘stuck out on the wing’ as most pundits seem to brainlessly coin any attacking player being deployed in a wide role (as opposed to the archaic static centre-forward position). He would buzz about in pockets of space, similarly to how he does now, but be less confined to an attacking position and subsequently be liberalised to move deep to get on the ball.

This is the 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 I’d like to see Brendan Rodgers employ. More fluidity, rotation and universality:

aw2

At the moment, our deficiencies and lack of fluidity in structure are being blanketed by the individual brilliance of Suarez and Sturridge. But just a smidgen of foresight will make you realise that if we don’t improve our all-round performances, teams will begin to take points off us, as Arsenal did at the weekend.

The 3-5-2 may suit one or two of our individuals, but it doesn’t suit our team.

To mark the end of the 30-year wait for a league title, the ‘Liverpool Mishmash’ poster is available to order exclusively on This Is Anfield — the history of the Reds in one image!

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