Brendan Rodgers’ tactical indecision has become increasingly evident in these last few weeks and the Liverpool manager must have a definite first-choice formation before signing new players this summer.
Another Monday, and another rather depressing look back at a frustrating Liverpool performance. That 2-1 victory over Man City less than two months ago seems like a distant memory now.
Saturday’s bland 0-0 draw against West Brom was the Reds’ latest damaging display in a faltering season, in addition to the FA Cup loss to Aston Villa and Premier League defeats to Man United and Arsenal.
Barring a fairly monumental capitulation from United, and a strong end to the campaign by the Merseysiders, we will likely have to put up with the curse of the Europa League in 2015/16.
Brendan Rodgers is coming increasingly under-fire- more than at any point in his Reds tenure to date- and he is seemingly at a loss as to what his best formation is.
It’s worth stressing that the Northern Irishman deserves great credit for switching to a 3-4-2-1 formation earlier in the season, helping turn Liverpool’s season around greatly in the process.
There was always a feeling that it wouldn’t be the long-term solution though, and ever since it was nullified by the likes of Swansea and United, Rodgers has shown little faith in any of his systems.
Having opted for a 4-3-3 formation in the wins over Blackburn and Newcastle, he then decided to go back to the 3-4-2-1 against Villa; something that backfired.
Rodgers’ inability to start with the right players, formation and system is becoming a recurring and worrying theme: http://t.co/Rut3Fc2pxr
— This Is Anfield (@thisisanfield) April 22, 2015
Panic then seemingly set in against Tim Sherwood’s side at Wembley, with Rodgers changing his system several times and playing players out of position because of it. It looked a mess.
The trip to the Hawthorns at the weekend saw another switch, this time back to his favoured 4-3-3, but again the make-up of the side looked disjointed.
Emre Can never looked happy at right-back, Glen Johnson is never particularly effective at left-back – he’s not great anywhere these days, in truth – while Jordan Henderson‘s influence was negated because of keeping an eye on an ageing Steven Gerrard alongside him.
Mario Balotelli dropped deep, leaving Liverpool without a presence up front – Rodgers using him in that role made you wonder why he was signed in the first place. Balotelli is not alone in that respect.
Much has been made of Liverpool’s recruitment last summer, with many feeling the club performed badly in the transfer market at a time when they had the chance to kick on and compete.
The most damning part of it all is that Rodgers appears to have signed players who are not remotely suited to his style of play, as stated with Balotelli above.
The 24-year-old was probably the most controversial of all the summer purchases, but if used in the right way, he is a real talent. He does not remotely thrive as a lone striker though; something both the 3-4-2-1 and 4-3-3 caters towards.
The same applies to Rickie Lambert, who despite doing fine in the role at Southampton last season, is still at his best with players in and around him to link up with.
Dejan Lovren was brought in as the man to eradicate Liverpool’s 2013/14 defensive woes, but there was a large reason for his success at Southampton. He had two defensive midfielders in front of him in Victor Wanyama and Morgan Schneiderlin, which helped him perform in the way he did.
Rodgers’ style is more gung-ho than Mauricio Pochettino’s, and because of it, Lovren’s lack of pace and ability on the ball have been ruthlessly exposed.
Lazar Markovic was signed with a reputation as one of Europe’s most exciting attacking players, but he has barely been used in an offensive role.
The 21-year-old is at his most dangerous in a wide attacking position or as an inside forward, not as a wing-back. Rodgers’ decision to continually play him there remains one of his most bemusing decisions this season.
The majority of those 2014 purchases don’t appear to have been made with a huge amount of thought from Rodgers, regardless of whether 4-3-3 was his first-choice system at the start of the season.
Liverpool pinned too much hope on Daniel Sturridge leading the line and as soon as the Englishman got injured, it appeared to become very much a case of fitting square pegs into round holes.
Although Rodgers deserves praise for making Raheem Sterling do a job as a striker, and for bringing the best out of Can, Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho in a back-three, but the decisions felt desperate at the time because of the transfer errors.
This summer is of enormous importance for both the club and Rodgers, and the manager’s Liverpool future may well rest on whether he makes the same mistakes or not.
Make or break summer
As is the norm at this stage of any season, the Reds are being linked with players left, right and centre. Until Rodgers knows a definite first-choice formation though, it’s pointless signing anyone.
As Karl Matchett perfectly outlined following the West Brom game on Saturday, “Rodgers’ constant switching of tactics also leaves the summer transfer window in limbo, as it’s nearly impossible to predict what type of players Liverpool need without knowing the shape they’ll take.”
Similarly, ESPN‘s Dave Usher highlighted Rodgers’ previous failings perfectly, and you can’t help but feel concerned that the same rather desperate method will be used summer.
“Two summers ago Liverpool missed out on Henrikh Mkhitaryan, an attacking midfield player. Instead of moving for a similar player to fill whatever role they had in mind for the Armenian, they switched their attention to Diego Costa, a centre-forward,” he states.
Rodgers: "get some quality starters in for the summer [..] and hopefully get back in there (Champions League)”: http://t.co/PL4yWPvuwg
— This Is Anfield (@thisisanfield) April 27, 2015
“They missed out on him too and then made an unsuccessful play for Willian, a winger/wide midfielder. It appeared to be a completely scattergun approach and last summer was exactly the same. Honestly, how can you go from Alexis Sanchez to Mario Balotelli?”
Rodgers has to decide on a system, perhaps spending the remainder of this season looking at which of his players will thrive in it in 2015/16, before bringing in several top-class players to add undoubted quality and balance to the team.
The Liverpool manager will know how vital the next few months are going to be in his managerial career, and for him to stand a good chance of being a long-term success story at Anfield, he must nail down a system and sign players accordingly.
What do you think Liverpool’s best system is? Has Rodgers failed in the transfer market? Let us know in the comments below.