AT half time at Goodison Park, Brendan Rodgers answered a lot of doubts about him by making a revolutionary tactical change. By switching to three at the back and putting five in midfield, we dragged ourselves back into the game as we nullified Everton’s main threats.
It isn’t the first time a Liverpool manager has switched to the back in recent years. Kenny Dalglish favoured three at the back when we played Stoke City (with mixed results) and Rafa Benitez switched to three at the back in a league game at Newcastle United four or five years ago. Liverpool were 2-0 up inside of 15 minutes before their then manager Glen Roeder had even the slightest idea of what was going on or how he should fix it.
But Rodgers’ approach was different. He did it at half time of a huge game. It wasn’t his starting plan. He changed and adapted.
Three at the back is a formation that has advantages and a notable drawback. It allows you to play three central defenders to combat any aerial threat (and despite their protestations, there was plenty of that from Everton) and when you’ve got the ball it frees one of them up to carry the ball deep into midfield territory. For us that would obviously be Daniel Agger.
It also produces width with full backs and enables them to push on knowing there is an extra centre half to cover. This also is my big problem with the formation – mix ups can occur with balls into wide channels. Who takes command of that ball? The centre half or the wing back? More often than not it gets dealt with but I think that this can be playing through the mind of a defence at all times.
In our case for the Merseyside derby, it also enabled Sterling to play through the middle and he should have scored not long after with a great chance that he totally mishit. The extra threat through the middle cannot be discounted for a team that scores so few goals.
But could it be the long term solution to the way we play? I would argue not, not under this manager anyway. Brendan Rodgers wants to play 4-3-3, and that is his long term aim. We aren’t at the required standard to play this formation yet in my view, with glaring weaknesses at left back, one wide position and a defensive midfielder who can sit and win second balls if Lucas is not fit.
It also allows Rodgers to get his three central midfielders that he loves so much on the pitch. The man himself has said we can’t play 4-3-3- every week due to the toll it takes on the players. The wide men up front and the two full backs need to get up and down the line a fair bit in his system because of the narrowness of the midfielders who don’t tend to take up wide positions. Sterling in particular is one we need to watch. We don’t want the talented young man to burn himself out by playing too often. By playing up front as part of a two, he wouldn’t need to cover as much ground as he does when out wide on the left or right of a three.
In an exclusive interview with The Liverpool Way fanzine, the manager said the following about his tactics; the need to “find solutions to help his players” and “if we play 4-3-3 in every game, we’ll be dead.”
Going forward, I think 3-5-2 is something we will call on occasionally when we’re struggling in the air or we’re getting swamped in midfield, but our main formation is going to be 4-3-3. And so it should be. There’s nothing wrong with the way we play, we just need to start scoring chances and win the second ball in midfield. Once we do that, I believe 4-3-3 will give the manager the control and possession that he craves.