With Coutinho now sidelined for up to six weeks with a fairly random shoulder injury, Liverpool have lost their main creative spark and Brendan Rodgers now has a huge dilemma regarding who to put into the team whilst attempting to maintain the great momentum the Reds have built up since January.
The Ulsterman has a good number of options to consider with the Reds brimming with young, attacking starlets such as Moses, Sterling, Ibe, Henderson and Alberto, as well as the more experienced Iago Aspas. Let us also not forget the imminent return of the infamous Luis Suarez, too. As well as the cover afforded by the growing squad, Rodgers has also brought in players with fantastic versatility and this means the Reds could line up in one of any number of formations from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1 to 5-3-2. These two factors make Liverpool’s clash with Southampton this weekend all the more interesting. A number of questions need answering and whether or not Liverpool remain top of the league come Saturday night rests solely on Rodgers’s shoulders.
Here are some of the potential options available to BR come Saturday’s 3 o’clock kick off, with capital letters in the line ups denoting a change in personnel or starting position:
Option 1 – Replace Coutinho with Luis Alberto in a 4-2-3-1
Line up: Mignolet – Toure/Wisdom, Skrtel, Sakho/Agger, Enrique – Gerrard, Lucas – Henderson, ALBERTO, Moses – Sturridge
Replacing Coutinho with Alberto would represent a like for like swap with Alberto’s fine ball retention and ability to get forward cut from the same cloth as Coutinho’s Brazilian talents. Although less mobile than the Brazilian, Alberto can link the midfield and attack too, as he proved for Barcelona B last season and his eye for a goal is arguably much keener than little Phillipe’s – Alberto recently netted three for Liverpool’s U21’s in a keenly contested affair under the Anfield lights, with an impressed Rodgers looking on from the stands.
A second positive to this option is the lack of disruption. Liverpool have employed this formation for most of Rodgers’s reign and this change in personnel will mean that formation remains intact. Not that formations mean much to this Liverpool side – the front four regularly rotate at will to cause the opposition defenders massive organisational headaches anyway.
Options 2 – Replace Coutinho with Iago Aspas in a 4-2-3-1
Line up: Mignolet – Toure/Wisdom, Skrtel, Sakho/Agger, Enrique – Gerrard, Lucas – ASPAS, HENDERSON, Moses – Sturridge
A second option available to Rodgers – and the more probable one – is to bring Iago Aspas back into the starting XI after the Spaniard was omitted from the team that started the game against Swansea on Monday night. This option does create two changes to Liverpool’s table topping formula but Henderson will be far more effective than Aspas in an AMC role and would continue to work really hard for the team but from a more central area rather than a wide right one. Henderson has always been thought of as a central player and his passing ability would be better utilised from a position just behind Daniel Sturridge.
Again, this option keeps Liverpool in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation and promotes familiarity with the players. One slight drawback that comes with including Iago Aspas in the starting XI is that he is yet to score and the forward recently admitted this was starting to play on his mind a little – taking Aspas out of the firing line for a game or two might be beneficial for both player and team.
Option 3 – Replace Coutinho with Kolo Toure in a 5-3-2
Line up: Mignolet – Wisdom, TOURE, Skrtel, Sakho/Agger, Enrique – Gerrard, Lucas, Henderson – ASPAS, Sturridge
I think this is a very plausible option for Brendan Rodgers. With Liverpool now boasting a vast array of quality defenders, it is possible Rodgers could employ a 5-3-2 formation and utilise Liverpool’s offensive full backs even more – of course, young Andre Wisdom does not really fall into this category but Enrique does and when Johnson returns this option may become available again and to greater effect.
Many people will look upon this formation as a boring and defensive one, when in reality it isn’t. When defending, sure, there are five at the back which sounds sturdy and seems to limit the opposition to less space in their attacking third. However, when a team using 5-3-2 has the ball, the formation becomes an offensive 3-4-3 with Henderson joining the attack and the full backs becoming make shift wingers in a temporary four man midfield. Then, once the attack is over, the formation regresses and returns to 5-3-2. Formations have become more flexible in recent years and this is a perfect example – formations are no longer rigid and subbuteo-like but evolve as the game enters different phases of play. Basically, the formation is just where each player starts from, then everything becomes fluid and interchangeable – something Rodgers deserves great credit for as Liverpool do it so well.
Some fans may bemoan such a formation, especially at home to a team Liverpool expect to beat, but a closer look reveals the strengths of this formation. A separate factor in favour of this option is that Liverpool have played it before and have certainly practised it. During the frantic 2-2 draw to Everton last year, Rodgers switched Liverpool to a 5-3-2 looking formation to counter Everton’s long balls and crosses into Fellaini, this means the players are probably already up to speed with this formation and regard it as a solid plan B.
Option 4 – Replace Coutinho with Raheem Sterling in a 4-2-3-1
Line up – Mignolet – Wisdom/Toure, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique – Gerrard, Lucas – STERLING, Henderson, Moses – Sturridge
Of the four realistic options available to Brendan Rodgers for the next of couple games, this one is perhaps the least likely. Talented player Raheem Sterling may be, but his behaviour off the pitch is attracting too much negative publicity and the youngster needs to learn to be professional away from Melwood and Anfield. Raheem’s recent court case may leave Brendan Rodgers thinking that the young Englishman is not mentally fit to start for Liverpool at the moment – despite being cleared as “not guilty”.
Sterling would give Liverpool great pace on the flanks but Rodgers seems to value the player as more of an impact sub – no bad thing for such a young player playing at a big club.
Which option would you choose if you were in Brendan Rodgers’s shoes? Let us know in the comments section below.
On Twitter: @ZAForster