This isn’t an uninformed, knee-jerk reaction to two poor games. But I’ve come to the conclusion that it may be time to ditch the 3-4-3 in favour of a more conventional ‘four at the back’ formation. The current set-up has provided us with some great results, including a marvellous winning run and string of six consecutive away clean sheets. And it’s actually a great fit for the players we have, suiting the likes of Sakho, Skrtel, and Coutinho down to a tee.
So why the need for a change? Well with the summer transfer window coming up, we desperately need to decide how we want to approach it. If we plan to play with three at the back for the long term, it will require us to buy some very specific players. We’d need wing backs instead of full backs, attacking midfielders more so than wingers, and plenty of centre backs. If we commit to these signings, a switch back to a system with four defenders becomes very tricky and would leave us with a lot of surplus players.
The 3-4-3 has always felt like a stopgap; a temporary method to restore some solidity and limit the damage from our awful start to the season. But the players grew into it and it has actually ended up serving us well. Which bodes well for the future, should we ever need to use it again, but I don’t feel it should be a system we actively build towards. Brendan Rodgers himself has said that he prefers to get as many attacking players on the pitch as possible, and his managerial past shows that he likes a 4-3-3 line up, or a diamond when two strikers are needed.
If we went that way now, it would allow Rodgers to analyse and assess the system, and see what is/isn’t working. With our top four aspirations looking like a very long shot at the moment, we haven’t got a right lot to lose by trying something different. On top of that, Emre Can now joins Martin Skrtel and Steven Gerrard on the suspension list for Wednesday’s cup tie at Blackburn. Can’s ball playing skills have made him a key component of our back three, but with only Dejan Lovren to come in and replace him, Rodgers may see this as an opportunity to experiment and just add that extra midfielder or forward instead.
We made some shocking defensive mistakes early on this term when the team was still settling, but let’s not forget that at that point we were still using Gerrard as the defensive midfielder, and Sakho was often been overlooked in place of a Lovren/Skrtel partnership. So if we were to start the Frenchman in a back four, with Lucas Leiva as the shield, it may not be as calamitous a set up as it came across previously. It would also give us more of an opportunity to assess loanee Javi Manquillo, who had a solid start here but has become something of a forgotten man, along with fellow full backs Jon Flanagan and Jose Enrique, who admittedly have had their injury problems, but also seem to have no place in the current set up where they could fit in.
It also may be time to give Can a run in his preferred midfield role, and decide whether he is good enough to be in our first team next season, or if we need to sign an upgrade to give him another year or two to develop. Markovic and Ibe could also be let off the leash a bit and utilised in advanced positions that require less discipline than the wing back roles they’ve usually been operating in so far.
It really depends on how the manager sees this team growing. But we’ve had a lot of square pegs in round holes this season, and while it was a gamble that paid off in stopping the rot of our early poor form, it isn’t a foundation for sustained success. On top of that, 3-4-3 isn’t the most common system, and any new signings coming into the team may take longer than usual to adapt to our way of playing. I genuinely think it would be best to go back to basics now, and use three at the back sparingly only if we need to tighten things up, particularly in our crucial FA Cup run.
By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)