By Live Sport
Brendan Rodgers is expected to adapt his fluid passing style from Swansea to Liverpool. At Swansea, Rodgers found success with a combination of 4-3-3 and 3-4-3 approaches. Based on pressing, possession, and positional intelligence, Rodgers’ style made Swansea one of the surprise packages of last season. Whether or not Rodgers can adapt a 3-4-3 and a 4-3-3 system to Liverpool will depend on whether the former can represent a consistent attacking threat, particularly given the new demands on Liverpool to retain possession and work the ball out much better from the back.
Rodgers’ Swansea tactics were influenced by Barcelona and Spain, as well as from his time as a coach working at Chelsea under Mourinho’s possession and width based 4-3-3. The 4-3-3 tactic used by Rodgers at Swansea depended on a more conventional back four, with attacking wing backs covering a central midfield three diamond, and a front three of inside forwards and a central striker. The 3-4-3, which Rodgers experimented with once Swansea were assured of escaping relegation, is a variation on the 4-3-3 that pushes up the wing-backs, and plays with a more withdrawn, ball playing defensive midfielder to screen a high line of centre backs.
Swansea predominantly used a 4-3-3 for defensive cover, with the 3-4-3 used as an experiment. The latter tactic was most significantly deployed by Barcelona last year as a version of a 4-3-3 with a higher back line, a withdrawn, ball playing midfielder, and more advanced wing backs. Rodgers has promoted both the values of a 4-3-3, and the experiment of a 3-4-3 as a more adventurous tactic able to potentially swamp opponents in the Premier League in midfield with pressing and quick passing.
He has, however, argued for a more fluid seven ‘lines’ or zones or possession from a sweeping goalkeeper through to the front three, with each zone dependent on playing neat triangles of possession and creating angles. Barcelona and Spain have made this tiki taka approach the core of their play over the past five years.
3-4-3 or 4-3-3 for Liverpool?
The main challenge for Rodgers at Liverpool will be to adjust the side’s philosophy after a season and a half of sometimes attractive, but direct football under Dalglish. During his time at the club, Dalglish opted for wide men like Maxi and Downing, but often struggled to take chances and dominate against less technically able sides. In terms of the 3-4-3 and 4-3-3 system, more pressure will be placed on Reina to play the ball out from his box, meaning that a back two or three will have to push forward to press a high line.
Martin Skrtel will likely continue to play as a more out and out centre back, with Daniel Agger charged with more creative duties. If playing with a third centre back, or more typically a deep defensive midfielder, Lucas Leiva or Henderson will be the most obvious choice to be able to cover the back and act as a screen for the midfield. In terms of attacking wing backs that can double up as more withdrawn full backs, Johnson and Enrique seem to be the automatic choices. Martin Kelly could also slot into that role.
Further upfield, a fit Lucas will be invaluable if he can retain the ball and be the first point for building attacks. The important question, then, becomes whether Gerrard will be deployed as a more attacking midfielder, likely to be the case in a 4-3-3, or as a central midfielder focused on keeping possession alongside either Henderson or Adam.
If considered, Joe Cole could also slot into this role, which is still the biggest gap in terms of Rodgers’ adaptation of his Swansea tactics – the arrival of Joe Allen from Swansea could also provide a like for like change. Rodgers has more options for a front three, with Suarez likely to drift out wide, with either Carroll, Borini or Bellamy acting as inside forwards. Carroll’s future is uncertain, so Suarez could act as Liverpool’s out and out striker, with new signing Borini, who played under Rodgers at Swansea, providing width.
Overall, then, Rodgers has the challenge of adapting a tactical strategy that typically takes years of training to get right. Rodgers will also arguably opt for a 4-3-3, rather than a 3-4-3 to begin with, given the still uncertain state of Liverpool’s midfield. Questions also remain over whether Stewart Downing and a returning Joe Cole have a place in Rodgers’ plans, as well as whether another striker will be needed.
Joe Dakin is a Football blogger for Live Sport, where you can get instant access to the latest TV listings for over 35 different sports including all Live Football on TV, with all Liverpool matches during 2012-13.