By Riley Beveridge
Midfield to Attack
Yesterday I published the first of two parts of my preview to Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool, based on how the Northern Irishman plans to link defence to midfield.
Today I’ll complete this analysis by explaining how Rodgers will get his midfield working to complement his attackers.
With Lucas and Joe Allen expected to sit deep in a 4-2-1-3 midfield system, it allows Steven Gerrard the space to roam free forward of centre.
Last season under Kenny Dalglish, we saw Gerrard almost play an anchoring role in midfield. There, he helped out the likes of Jay Spearing and Charlie Adam. This was, in-part, due to the long-term injury suffered by Lucas in November.
Whether Gerrard was told to sit so deep by Dalglish or chose to do it out of sheer frustration at the lack of midfield cover, we’ll never know.
However throughout the pre-season fixtures, and in particular the Europa League qualifiers against FC Gomel, Gerrard has enjoyed an abundance of space just in behind the front three.
This advanced position is reminiscent of the one Gerrard took up in the 2008-09 season where he won the FWA Player of the Season award. In that campaign the skipper amassed 24 goals in 42 appearances in arguably his best season at Anfield.
Gerrard is a player who thrives on having space just behind the strikers. It allows him to either set up attacking plays or drive at goal. I think we could see a much happier Stevie G under Rodgers, whereas he was often left frustrated under Dalglish.
Gerrard’s role in front of the two holding midfielders will allow him to either interlink with those behind him, or turn and run at goal if he’s in space.
The three up front will share similar freedom to Gerrard in the front third, but in a different sense.
Luis Suarez is likely to start most games in the most central attacking position on the field. In the second leg of the tie with Gomel, and in the final friendly against Bayer Leverkusen, the Uruguayan played in the middle of the front three and was allowed to weave his creative magic as he does best.
However Suarez will have the opportunity to peel left or right in order to get himself to the byline and set up attacking moves. He did this to perfection against Gomel, where he dropped left to set up Fabio Borini’s opener, before dropping right to get the assist for Gerrard’s goal.
When, or if, Andy Carroll plays, it’s likely he’ll adopt this central striking role as well.
Many have asked the question if Suarez and Carroll can play together. I still believe they can. However in order to do so Suarez will need to play more as a winger, like we’ve seen Borini and Stewart Downing do throughout pre-season.
Borini and Downing’s role in the lead up to the new season have been interesting. Rodgers told us when he first signed Borini that he is more than likely to play wide in a front three, so it was no surprise to see him take up positions on the left when he came into the side. Downing, meanwhile, has predominantly gone to the right.
Playing a left-footer on the right hand side, and a right-footer on the left hand side, has become a common trend in modern day football. It allows for a touch of unpredictability to the wide men’s game.
Full backs won’t know whether someone like Downing intends to go to the byline and deliver a cross, or cut back onto his preferred left foot and strike at goal. This was the case in the away leg of the Gomel tie when Downing shifted the ball onto his left side and scored from 25 yards out.
Borini is also a proven centre-forward, so it’s natural for him to float inside and become a goal poacher, feeding off Suarez’s creativity and imagination. We saw this against Gomel at Anfield when the Italian netted his first Liverpool goal.
Borini and Downing should be the most likely to partner Suarez in the front three against West Brom on Saturday, however Raheem Sterling (playing mainly on the left), and Joe Cole (playing mainly on the right) provide adequate cover.
Although Sterling is just 17-years-old, he already has four first team appearances to his name and should build upon that this season. His goal against Leverkusen was first class. He’s a kid who knows how to beat a defender, and I think he could be a real star in the making at Anfield.
Cole, meanwhile, was hampered by injuries in the latter part of pre-season, however he should be fit and ready in time for Saturday. Rodgers has experimented with Cole throughout pre-season, playing him on the left, the right and centrally, however I see his future at Liverpool being on the right hand side. He played his best friendly against AS Roma down the right, and for me it’s the only option for him going forward. In addition to this, I certainly wouldn’t like seeing him limit Sterling’s opportunities if he does move left.
Due to the two centre-backs spreading wide when Liverpool are in possession (as explored yesterday in Part One), the full backs can push higher to create even more width.
Jose Enrique and Glen Johnson are naturals in getting forward, and both have created or scored goals in pre-season (Enrique set up Sterling v Leverkusen while Johnson scored v Gomel).
Yesterday I also stated my confidence that Rodgers would play with a 4-2-1-3 system for the first match against West Brom. I noted that Allen’s arrival at Liverpool further enhanced my belief in this system.
To add some attacking stats to back up my prediction, Liverpool scored just two goals in three games playing with a 4-1-2-3 in pre-season, while they netted seven in the final three games playing with the 4-2-1-3 – which I personally favour.
A Liverbird Upon My Chest will watch closely on Saturday to see just how accurate we were in our predictions, but either way hopefully this two-part analysis has helped give you a better insight into what you can expect from Brendan Rodgers this season.
There are definitely some exciting times ahead at Anfield, and it all kicks off in just a few days time at the Hawthorns.