I am writing a piece I have been thinking about since the cup final but in a slightly happier mood after watching our wonderful 4-1 triumph that goes some way to support the point that I am wanting to make.
But quickly Tuesday saw a better approach, performance and attitude, with some quality performances from a lot of individuals. Doff of the cap to Shelvey for a well taken first in the league and that really was Terry’s best game in a long while, Bayern will certainly miss his presence! Ahem!
This is a subject that I have thought about for a long time, dating back to Rafa’s days and is a debate that has caused us headaches in more ways than one. We all know that there is not one perfect formation that trumps all others and different teams will respond to different formations in different ways.
These 2 formations I have identified have predominantly been the ones Liverpool have deployed in recent years and I will now look at the pros and cons of each.
The perfect example of how this formation can be used and how effective it can be is the 2008/09 season where we finished second. You just have to look at the personnel at our disposal to see why we played so well. The deep lying pair of Alonso and Mascherano complimented each perfectly with Masch allowed to do what he does best, disrupting and tackling with Xabi on hand to orchestrate from a deep role and run things. The assurance these two provided to the team was no more evident in what it allowed Gerrard to do. Stevie was able to set up in a free role behind Torres and roam the pitch safe in the knowledge he had cover behind him. His movement and freedom given to him by Rafa caused chaos in opposition ranks allowing a glorious partnership with Nando. As for Nando, the player he is and the form he was in was the perfect player for the solo striker role. He could hold the ball up, run at defences, harry, press, was good in the air or to his feet and intelligent enough to link up well with the skipper. Playing this way allowed Liverpool to clear the lines and move out of defence easier, and with such an immaculate goalscorer in the side always knew there was a possibility that no matter how the game or the performance was Torres could pop up with a goal. Not unlike RVP at Arsenal this year.
The problem this created was that there was only room for one established centre forward at the club. With Torres playing, playing well and staying fit people like Crouch and Bellamy for example were not getting a sniff and consequently moved on. This left Liverpool with only Ngog as a second striker. I always thought Ngog had potential and needed to be nurtured and brought in slowly, however, with the injury problems Torres suffered he was thrust in far too early and struggled. Coupling this with the loss of a lynchpin in the team and the formation as Alonso was we were setup to play a system our squad did not suit. This for me was a similar problem we had in the first half of the FA Cup on Saturday. With all due respect and as good a players as they are and the potential they have (and I think Henderson has a lot) Henderson and Spearing are not Masch and Alonso. This can be seen in Stevie’s performance as he was dropping too deep as the same trust he showed Alonso and Masch wasn’t there. Also, the type of striker Suarez is, doesn’t suit that lone striker role so Liverpool were not able to relieve the defence and the pressure that Chelsea were building.
Back in 2008/09, if we are using this as the example, the use of a 4-4-2 system was a case of using players to fit a system rather than the way it should be, in that a system is used to promote the best from the players. It was clear in the failed Keane experiment that Torres was not as effective playing up top with a second forward and a distinct lack of two out an out wingers resulted in people playing out of position, the very current problem of square peg round hole. In this system, the offensive combinations that worked so well in the 4-2-3-1 system did not suit, Masch and Alonso while still as solid were not as effective and Stevie, although many will argue some of his most successful seasons have been wide right, we all know he was built for the middle of the park so his talents were not fully utilised.
Carroll dominated the Chelsea centre backs and clearly showed in many eyes what this man can become with patience and belief, and as a result brought Suarez into the game. With Carroll providing an outlet and a focal point it distracted the centre backs freeing Suarez more who increasingly found more space and hurt Chelsea more. I fully believe when Suarez and Carroll get on the same page (not far off in my book) then we are looking at a modern day Keegan and Toshack. We are starting to see the best of Carroll and the publicly praised performances at Wembley this last month are just an insight into what he offers and the beast he can truly be. Carroll’s introduction also saw Gerrard pushed back into the middle where he was able to have more influence, and him dropping deep in search of the ball was not creating the same repercussions it was having the first half. Likewise tonight, the 4-4-2 system saw a forward partnership that was dangerous and offered attacking options on many fronts, whether the raw strength of Carroll to hold up or the ludicrous skill of Suarez to embarrass players (Terry). The system also saw us get the best out of Henderson and Shelvey (the next Gerrard?) as each had a certain amount of freedom to get forward and attack, with both making some lovely runs and capping off fine performances with well taken goals.
In conclusion it is my belief that our current squad are more suited to the 4-4-2 setup and the addition of at the very least an out and out right winger is the way forward. Although not perfect, 4-4-2 has been a reliable formation to bring success to the red half of Manchester for many years and whilst we no longer (sadly) have the talents of an Alonso, of a Mascherano our current squad looks more comfortable playing 4-4-2. In terms of the squad, the 4-4-2 system as a plan A does offer more first team opportunities in a number of areas, specifically up front. It has often been said that to be successful you need 4 top centre forwards, so with 2 places to fight for in the starting line up it is reasonable to have 4 top strikers involved, whereas if there is only 1 as in a 4-2-3-1 formation then you will struggle to please players. I do believe however, that should Carroll’s form progress and his confidence grow that we will be looking at a man that can offer Liverpool what Drogba offers Chelsea and allow us the option of the 4-2-3-1, but for me the key to that formation is Lucas as he instils confidence in the rest of the team and allow them to fully express themselves.
As always I welcome chat and debate and can be found on twitter @timdibs and love chatting Liverpool and football in general! Come find me and say hi.
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