By Omisakin Ayobami
Unarguably the most exciting team to watch in the Barclays Premier League this season. Having scored the highest number of goals as well as playing scintillating football; humiliating their opponents and being a joy to watch for fans and neutrals alike. Many have compared them to Barcelona or Dortmund though no school of thought seems to be right or wrong as the team has been unique and also similar! Literally, one could say that they have painted the whole league red! Which team am I referring to? Well, your guess is as good as mine; it’s the men from the red half of Merseyside. Yes, Liverpool F.C.
However, what has been responsible for this surprising but welcome brilliance, what did Rodgers do to birth this Red Revolution, what is the secret of a team which at the beginning of the season was not expected to meet the top 4 but ended the season as a major contender? Many claim that the absence of European competitions plus early exits from domestic cup competitions are notable reasons, but are they the only reasons? These and many more are the questions that I would attempt to answer in the following lines…
BRENDAN RODGERS (THE COACH)
One cannot help but hail the tactical flexibility he has shown this season. Liverpool do not boast a strong squad like Chelsea or Manchester City, therefore opponents usually have an inkling as to the starting line up but how they will line up is always the unanswered question. Widely touted to clinch the Manager of the Year Award, B.R.’s team has thrived on adaptation and fluidity; that’s something most Premier League teams cannot boast of (now Moyes and Wenger come to mind). Rodger’s philosophy has always been possession football but this season with Liverpool, that has changed to high-pressing and counter-attack.
The Reds have been devastating on the counter, not only winning the ball in their own half but the opponent’s as well.
One cannot pinpoint an exact formation that Liverpool has used and this is because the team has a formation for each situation. In other words, the team’s got different formations for attacking play, when on the defensive, and so on. However, we can still make out a pattern of formations that will be discussed below:
4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 Formation.
This was what Rodgers used in spell at Swansea and he started with that this season. The deployment of a lone striker was perhaps due to the ban on Suarez as Sturridge enjoyed being the focus of attention. The 4-2-3-1 had Lucas and Gerrard as the 2 central midfielders covering the defence as both full backs joined the attack.
However when out of possession, Sturridge drops to the flanks to form a 4-3-3.
The result of this was that on regaining possession, Gerrard with his swift but accurate diagonal passes could locate Sturridge on the flank well away from the opponents’ attention and with ample space to run into. This was quite efficient but not overly impressive as a return of a goal per match told the story.
5-3-2 or 3-5-2 Formations.
When the Uruguayan wizard came back from suspension, Rodgers found a solution to accommodate both his top strikers in a 3-5-2 formation (3-4-1-2 variation).
This involved 3 central defenders, 2 wing backs, 3 central midfielders in a triangular form of a spearhead, and then SAS up front.
The team scored more goals but conceded more than before and the frailties of this formation were unmercifully exposed in the 2-2 draw against Newcastle.
In an attacking position, the 3 central defenders spread across the defence, Kolo Toure (being able to play as a right back) moves to the right while Sakho (left-footed) moves to the left and Skrtel remains the only central defender. Gerrard and Lucas offered the defence protection as the wing backs rampaging down the flanks. SAS are allowed to roam freely. In a defensive position, the team potentially has 5 defenders and with the central midfielders, 7 players behind the ball, while relying on SAS and either Coutinho or Sterling to offer the counter-attacking threat. However, where a full back is left exposed, a centre-back covers for him leaving a 4-man defence with either one of SAS drifting to the opposite flank.
4-4-2 Diamond or 4-3-3 variant.
The 3-0 trouncing of Man-United serves as a good illustration of the 4-4-2 diamond formation. The midfield quartet included Gerrard at the base as the pivot or ‘quarterback’, Lucas and Henderson as the central midfielders and a Sterling spearhead. This narrow midfield, coupled with Moyes’ adamant wing play, was Man-U’s waterloo.
In defensive position, Lucas and Henderson moved to either flank to nullify the attacking threat of the wingers and full backs. Gerrard remained in the middle intercepting passes and dictating the play.
In attacking position, the inclusion of Sterling (known for his blistering pace) and the habitual dropping deep of SAS ensured that Fellaini and Carrick came out from their deep positions. This in turn left space between United’s midfield and defence thereby making it possible for those runs by Henderson and Allen to trouble the defence (remember that the second goal came through a foul on Allen after he had been put through by a Henderson throughball). Sterling’s positional play and later that of Coutinho ensured that SAS could either drop deep or drift wide to draw away man-markers and create space in the middle. While in possession, the 2 centre-backs moved wide to cover the over-lapping full backs while Gerrard moved into their middle in a high defensive line (the Achilles heel as a Gerrard slip ensured an away victory for the over-cautious Blues).
STEVEN GERRARD (THE CAPTAIN):
Perhaps his best season in recent times, Gerrard improved on his positional discipline and excelled in a much deeper role. He served as the anchor man of this Kop team and sheer strength and perfect tackling ensured adequate cover for the defence but more than that, his long range and diagonal passes plus splendid vision in creating chances made certain that Liverpool’s counter attacking policy was a real threat to opponents. In his newly found position, Gerrard flourished being able to dictate play due to the much space and time on the ball afforded to him in that defensive position. It is indeed remarkable that despite this deeper position, Captain Fantastic has produced more goals (13 vital ones at that) than last season even though more than 90% came from the penalty spot. He also is one of the top assists (12) in the league and has improved on dead ball situations.
His improvement and statistics have been fundamental to the Red’s success this season. In the league, he has won 59.1% of his duels, made 47 interceptions in 33 games, made 93 tackles and won 72 of them, 89 clearances and 15 blocks; he has made 2,127 passes with an 86% accuracy and created 64 chances.
LUIS SUAREZ (THE VAMPIRE???):
Luis Suarez is one of the Premier League’s most talked about characters—loved and loathed in equal measure, depending on your allegiance. Despite missing the opening five matches of the season, he not only is the division’s top scorer but has equaled the record of league goals scored in a season (31 goals in 32 games) and is about to set a new one.
His dribbling skills, nutmegs, defensive runs, work rate, determination, freekicks and body feints have been unmatched this season and mainly responsible for his team’s top 4 finish.
He not only scores but creates chances as well with a number of assists (12) to his credit.
He was recently declared the Professional Footballers’ Award Player of the Year (becoming the first non-European to win the award in 30years) as well as the Football Writer’s player of the Year. Many predict that he is the next to the ranks of the Galacticos (fingers and toes crossed).His form, in just one campaign alone, has propelled him into the same sentence as other Liverpool greats in the past quarter-century. He is the league leader when it comes to dribble attempts per match (beating Eden Hazard on 6 per appearance) and when it comes to being on the ball, as a forward, there are few who receive more touches per minute they are on the field than he does. Hazard (1.27 mins) and Wayne Rooney (1.24 mins) are the only two attackers to out-rank him. What else can be said of this remarkable footballer, ah! Yes!, he is a member of the most prolific and feared strike partnerships in England and arguably all of Europe (second to BBC of course!), the SAS.
DANIEL STURRIDGE (THE DANCER):
He is the other half of SAS. More than that, he has been a revelation under Rodgers and his return of 21 goals and 7 assists despite injuries is a testament to his attacking prowess. He is a beast in the box, with his strength giving him an advantage over defenders. His direct running and powerful left foot has terrorized defences this season, and his versatility (being able to play across the front 3) has lessened Rodger’s headaches this season.
He will not only be remembered for his dancing steps but also for his commitment and vital goals in a red shirt!
THE sterling STERLING:
I am short of words to describe this teenager. Simply put, Sterling has been sterling. Being touted to be one of the best natural wingers in the future, he has carried the team on his small shoulders at crucial times this season. His brilliant acceleration and overall speed has left opponents rooted and even embarrassed veterans. He’s got 9 goals and 5 assists in 23 starts.
The list is continues but time won’t permit me to talk about the creative and industrious Phillippe Countinho (a pity he could not make the Brazil squad): the relentless, ever-pressing, never- resting and the perfect box-to-box midfielder called Jordan Henderson; he has played in various positions this season, from wing back to central midfielder to attacking midfielder to winger and would have started all of Liverpool’s matches if not for the ban.
The Reds have been a delight to watch except for their opponents. High pressing, fluid transitions from defence to attack and vice versa, nerve racking counter-attacks, great dribbling, determination and a shaky defence has seen a team labeled as contenders for the 4th position to become contenders for the top position.
No matter the position the team finishes in though, the Kop will no doubt look back with pride on their 99 goal haul (perhaps more by the end of the season) that has brought back to them their greatest joy- champions league night football!
Question of the Day
Who has been your most impressive Liverpool Player this season?