Liverpool currently sit atop of the Premier League with six games to go and the credit has rightfully been directed to their manager Brendan Rodgers. Since his appointment, it felt like the right move for the club to put in place a boss that could change the culture of the club and set them on the right path to recovery.
Last season, many saw faults initially with the results and the team finished in a disappointing seventh. The reds stuck by their man, backed him in his refusal to sell star man Luis Suarez and those decisions have paid off in abundance. The team play exciting football, can match up to any team in the league and confidence is flowing in players many saw as failures.
But it’s not just his man-management skills that have been on display this season, the most impressive feat is his tactical nuances and how he’s got this team to be able to adapt to any situation thrown at them.
On the face of things, Liverpool are a side built to go all-out in an attacking sense. With attacking options like Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling and Coutinho, Rodgers is well aware of where his side’s strength lies so will tend to play two up-top when he can. He also likes the use of the modern full-back, whether that’s in a back four or as wing backs in a back five.
This has led to several different formations that he can choose from or change to during a game. His most prominent recently has been a 4-2-3-1 style that allows the two wingers and the lone striker to constantly change their positions to their own will. This would usually start with Sturridge as the man up front with Suarez allowing himself to come deep and wide whilst Sterling plays as the natural winger.
The more significant changes are to what they do in midfield, both from a formation point of view and how the players play. Liverpool employ mostly three formations, the one already mentioned, an adapted diamond and the Italian-style 3-5-2. In all those formations, Gerrard plays as a subdued deep-lying playmaker, tasked with using his aggression to win the ball back and begin attacks rather than joining them. Henderson will fill the former role of the captain as a box-to-box midfielder that can both create and score in attacking movements (if he improved his finishing consistency).
That’s how they both play in the 4-2-3-1, playing towards the pace and creativity they have up front, whilst Gerrard might even fill in as a third centre-back as the full backs bomb forward. In the diamond, Gerrard plays just in front of the defence whilst Henderson will play alongside someone like Joe Allen.
They are both given the licence to find the spaces in attacking movements while allowing the point of the diamond, either Sterling or Coutinho, to find attacking spaces out wide with one of the two strikers.It worked perfectly against Manchester United, allowing Allen and Henderson to find spots in between the wingers and full backs before supplying balls to the front men.
The final formation they have deployed prominently is the 3-5-2, mainly used at the beginning of the season. With the three centre-back safety net, much like what sometimes happens in the 4-2-3-1, Gerrard is allowed to sit in the middle of the park and dictate play whilst easing his defensive responsibility. It’s surprisingly more offense and mainly used against weaker teams, with the attacking wing backs bombarding forward to put balls into a crowded box.
Whilst it’s not been perfect, especially at the beginning of the season, the fact that the team can change the way they play with ease has massively contributed to a very successful season that could yet get even better. It’s surprising that other teams haven’t attempted to do something similar in the past, with many heralding successful systems as the “way to go” but like anything, they have their weaknesses but something like this can be difficult to counter.
If you don’t know how the opposition could set up or the fact they could change mid-game can be almost impossible to prepare for. It’s why Liverpool have been so difficult to play, combined with their belief in the system and confidence they are beginning to beat some teams before they even play. It’s an excellent feat by Rodgers, building a side that is very entertaining to watch and with another summer focusing on strengthening their defensive capabilities, can get even better yet.