The obvious answer is that we are preparing ourselves as best we can for a multitude of possibilities, so that we are adequately prepared for whatever the season throws at us. But one of our problems last year was that it seemed Brendan Rodgers wasn’t sure about how he wanted to line up from the offset, so we sacrificed many points by learning on the go about what did or didn’t work for us. A 4-5-1 turned into a diamond to accommodate Mario Balotelli, which then turned into a 4-2-3-1 when Daniel Sturridge got injured. Then of course came the 3-4-3, which eventually got dropped to revert to four at the back with a false nine up front. But all of that chopping and changing meant we never settled on a preferred system, which certainly contributed to our poor campaign.
Given that we played out our best spell of last term with three at the back, many thought we may aim to develop that formation and take it into the coming season. But based on our signings and pre-season set-up, I think we can assume that that isn’t on the cards, and the three-man defence was simply stop-gap to see us through a tough period. It may be called upon again in an emergency, but I don’t see it as a system we’ll aim to use frequently.
Brendan Rodgers has proved before that he likes to employ a three-man midfield, though in a less conventional manner than most other managers would go with. Instead of selecting a specialised defensive midfielder, a specialised playmaker, and a specialised ‘water-carrier’ to do the dirty work, Rodgers likes three all-rounders who can run the game with their energy and running rather than patient passing and build-up. Jordan Henderson and James Milner fit this profile perfectly. One of the three usually sits deeper than the others, as we’ve seen Lucas Leiva and Joe Allen do over pre-season, and be responsible for taking the ball out from the back and looking to break the opposition lines with a pass to a more advanced player. But the fact that we haven’t signed, or don’t appear to be interested in signing, a higher calibre of orthodox defensive midfielder such as the ‘destroyer’, ‘monster’ types, who focus on breaking up play and recycling possession, suggests that the manager doesn’t see that as a necessary duty in his side.
The positive side to this so far is that we can build towards the idea that the ‘4-3’ aspect of our line-up is a given, and the only major alteration to be made is whether the next three players line up to create a 4-3-3 or a diamond. But if the defence and midfield are settled in their duties and know what they are doing regardless, it makes it an easier transition if we want to swap the forward’s roles. We could easily switch between two wingers and a striker, to an attacking midfielder and two strikers, with minimal fuss or impact on the shape of the rest of our team. Only the more intricate details would change, such as whether Rodgers wants one side of the diamond to pull wide when the ball is on his side, or to what extent he has to track his full back. With the intelligent players we have though, this should be something that comes naturally anyway.
So what we’re left wondering is how our attack is going to set up to provide us with the goals we missed so sorely last season. We’ve mostly seeing a lone striker of Danny Ings or Divock Origi in our friendly games, supported by two players out wide. But with a couple of big players absent in Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino, these matches may not be the best indication of Rodgers’ long-term plan. With Coutinho being a ready-made, and literal number ten, and Firmino having played as a striker before, I think the gaffer may be giving a return to the diamond formation a lot of consideration. Of course, the two Brazilians could also operate on the flanks and simply sit narrower to utilise their creative skills, or they could even slot into one of the midfield roles if we wanted to go a bit more offensive.
Adam Lallana has also looked lively in pre-season, and for me Jordon Ibe has been the standout performer of our four matches so far. Throw in Lazar Markovic, and hopefully we’ll have given Rodgers the headache every manager wants, of who to leave out of his team sheets instead of who he’s going to throw in to make up the numbers.
Christian Benteke’s arrival at Liverpool raised a few eyebrows due to his clear contrast in style to the recent strikers who have thrived for us. But Rodgers insists that he has the ability to slot right into our way of playing, and our relentless pursuit of the Belgian suggests that the manager is extremely confident of this. Our season could rest on just how much of a success he proves to be, but if nothing else we can be thankful that we don’t have a repeat of the Mario Balotelli calamity of last summer, as Rodgers this time has been provided with his number one target to achieve his vision for our team. Exactly what that vision is, will only become clear in time. But after all of the confusion and nonsensical happenings that occurred last campaign, we can at least be sure that this year we will see a real Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool.
By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)