The 4-2-2 diamond was successfully used at times by Brendan Rodgers last season, and with Mario Balotelli needing to be accommodated, it should now be the Liverpool manager’s formation of choice, writes Henry Jackson.
Although the 4-3-3 and even the 3-5-2 were also successful at times, the diamond formation had many plus points to it, and ones that very much apply this year too. It simply has to be Rodgers’ system of choice.
Balotelli and Sturridge
There were times last season when some questioned how Rodgers could possibly get the best out of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, with both preferring to play in central attacking roles. The diamond allowed them to play in a pair, and the results were unforgettably incredible.
Exactly the same issue arises with the arrival of Mario Balotelli at Anfield. There simply wouldn’t be any balance to the side if he or Sturridge had to play out wide in a 4-3-3- Roy Hodgson still sometimes inexplicably plays Sturridge to the right in order to accommodate Wayne Rooney- but as a front two they will flourish. Who’s to say Balotelli can’t prove to be an equally lethal foil to Sturridge as Suarez was in 2013/14.
Protection of Gerrard
Much has been made of Gerrard’s defensive work of late, particularly following Monday’s 3-1 defeat to Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium. Although some of the criticism that has come the skipper’s way is just pure ageism, there is no doubt that he can look a liability in a 4-3-3.
Too often he is left isolated in his deep-lying midfield role, and he no longer has the pace to help mask positional errors like he may have done in the past. The 34-year-old is a naturally attacking player, so he does not always think in a defensive manner. The way he allowed David Silva to ghost in behind him on Monday, in the lead-up to Stevan Jovetic’s avoidable opening goal, perfectly highlights that.
Rodgers’ decision to switch to the diamond last season also coincided with Raheem Sterling’s most unstoppable form of the campaign. The 19-year-old thrived at the top of the midfield four, running at players, scoring goals and displaying vision that some didn’t believe he had in his armoury. He was the Reds’ star man between February and May.
Although Sterling can be equally brilliant out wide, running full-backs ragged, he has now shown he’s at his best behind the front two. Just look at his performances for England at this summer’s World Cup. He was the Three Lions’ best player against Italy in a central role- Azzurri legend Andrea Pirlo was particularly praiseworthy of him- before being bafflingly switched to the right-wing in the following game against Uruguay, where he was less effective.
Of course, like any formation, the 4-4-2 diamond has its flaws, and will not always be a success in every game. The narrow midfield means that the full-backs are not particularly well protected, and if you are facing a fast, counter-attacking team they could be in danger of being targeted.
Both full-backs need to be incredibly fit, getting up and supporting the attacks time and time again in order to provide constant width, while ball retention in midfield is vital. A loss of possession in that area would risk the likes of Alberto Moreno, Javier Manquillo and Glen Johnson being stranded high up the pitch, and the opposition attacking open spaces.
Bleacher Report’s Sam Tighe perfectly assessed the pros and cons of the formation back in 2012, here.
As mentioned above, there will be certain matches against more unique systems where the 4-4-2 diamond may have to be ditched by Rodgers- formations can often alter throughout a single game too- but it brings so many positives to Liverpool‘s side that it must be used more often than not.
It will bring the best out of Balotelli, Sturridge, Sterling and Gerrard, and the Reds’ possession-based game makes it the perfect fit as they look to kick on in 2014/15.