“I must have just dreamt that about Liverpool playing 3-4-3 in the last game. What do people think that was, a bit of luck? A British coach playing 3-4-3? A foreign coach doing that would be a tactical genius. I imagine people think I fell into that system through a stroke of luck or something.
“Not that I might have been awake into the early hours of the morning thinking of a solution to our problem. We played with a box midfield and a back three, with [Lazar] Markovic wide and [Raheem] Sterling as a free No9, but it took some thought. I didn’t just throw them out there.”
Liverpool’s recent rise in form in terms of performance and results coincided with the implementation of a new system by the flexible Brendan Rodgers. The reds hadn’t been at their very best this season due to many reasons. The loss of Suarez to Barca and Sturridge through injury was pointed out by many analysts, one thing they failed to touch on however was Liverpool’s pressing wasn’t as effective as last year. ‘SAS’ as they were called last season were clinical in front of goal and added a whole new dimension to Liverpool’s attack whenever deployed. It wasn’t just their attacking power that helped Liverpool, but their work rate from a tactical perspective. Liverpool were always on the front foot last season and would press with relentless intensity to regain possession high up the pitch before quickly transitioning into attack. This season the reds haven’t been as efficient in that aspect.
Balotelli, is talented indeed, but doesn’t offer a lot of energy and intensity to Liverpool’s game which Rodgers noted; “We have seen it’s not really his game. Working with him for the period of time he’s been here we have seen that he’s probably someone who’s better in and around the box. That level of intensity and pressing isn’t part of his game”
In a bid to achieve the intensity that served them so well last season, Brendan Rodgers has built his attack around three energetic and very hardworking players in Lallana, Coutinho and Sterling. Rodgers again explained the reason for Lallana’s recent inclusion into the XI; “People talk about Adam technically but one of his key attributes for me is how he presses the ball and his work-rate,” he said. “He is a wonderful manipulator of the ball and brilliant technically – the space he can turn in to get himself out of trouble and open up the game for you is incredible. But one of the key features for me in bringing him here was also his ability to press”
Again, his quotes were directed towards intensity and workrate, which gives an indication to the style of football Rodgers hopes to achieve with his new fluid system.
‘We play with a box midfield and a back three, two wingbacks and [Raheem] Sterling as a free No9″
Liverpool play in defense with three very good passers of the ball in Can, Skrtel and Sakho. Against Swansea, we saw the welsh side adopt a pressing system where instead of putting pressure on Liverpool’s centerbacks they drop off and cover passing lanes. Here, Can’s distribution proved handy. The new Liverpool signing has been one of those who have benefited most from the new formation and is ability to break lines through vertical and diagonal passing is crucial in Liverpool’s construction phase.
The wingbacks are pushed very high and in certain phases of play move to the same line as Liverpool’s forwards seeing them form a 3-2-5 shape. Henderson and Lucas/Gerrard occupy the central midfield spots with a rotational and mobile attacking trio of Lallana, Sterling and Coutinho leading the line.
“We’re at our best when our game is aggressive,” Rodgers on his new formation. “So for us it was about trying to find the solution to get back that intensity and tempo to our game, which is critical in terms of how we work. That’s key, that real aggressive pressure at the top end of the field. The players are starting to adapt and performances will get better and better.”
Indeed, Liverpool’s pressing has improved in recent weeks. Arsenal completed a mere 68% of their passing in the opening thirty minutes at Anfield with majority of the failed passes being from Arsenal’s center-halves. Coutinho, Lallana and Sterling applied pressure to the opposition backline and this was very effective in Liverpool defending from the front. Against Burnley, the Reds weren’t at all dominant but there were flashes of their refound intensity. In this screenshot, Coutinho quickly presses the player in possession after a pass is played from the Burnley number 5. Coutinho’s presence puts of the defender and hurries his decision making, as Gerrard and Henderson cut off the visible passing lanes. In an attempt to play long, the ball is intercept by Coutinho and goes to Sterling who unfortunately was in an offside position.
In this situation, Liverpool’s positioning again cuts out passing lanes and cleverley opens a passing option to Burnley’s number 14 as a pressing trap. Immediately the ball is played to #14, Lallana pressurizes him, Liverpool regain possession and immediately hit Burnley on the counter attack.
“Everyone has to be on board when you press high up the pitch like that,” said Henderson. “Everyone is, especially from the front with Raheem, Philippe [Coutinho] and Adam [Lallana]. They work really hard on the press and then it is easy for us squeezing up behind.”
Lallana, Coutinho and Sterling interchange in the attacking positions and their movements and rotations often pose a threat to defenses, Lallana in particular is a very clever off-the-ball mover and often finds himself in intelligent positions between the lines
Liverpool’s performance in recent weeks has been reminiscent of their 2013-14 selves. There is a certain buzz in their play and credit should be given to Rodgers for his tactical tweaks and faith in youth.