Robbie Keane and Gareth Barry may be the 2 most likely new arrivals at Anfield over the next couple of weeks. However, at the start of the summer all the talk was about wingers joining the club, yet it has been eerily quiet since Rafa seemed to baulk at the asking price of Albert Riera.
Are Liverpool still looking for wingers or has the manager had a change of heart about the formation he may use this season? Second guessing Rafa is as we know a difficult job and he’s already said he probably won’t use just one formation, but I will try to examine the different options available to him.
4-3-3 (or interpretations of it)
This is the formation that Rafa used in the second half of last season. You could argue that it wasn’t a true 4-3-3 due to the deeper midfield role of Mascherano and the 2 wide players maybe more wingers than forwards but let’s not split hairs.
This is certainly still a formation that we would be able to use this year. Using 1 central striker is certainly likely if we don’t get Robbie Keane as Torres and Kuyt will be the only 2 first team out and out strikers in the squad. That’s assuming Voronin is sold which is looking likely (fingers crossed).
Those who have been excited by watching Daniel Pacheco in the pre-season friendlies should not get carried away as he’s unlikely to figure regularly in our team this year.
Last year the common strike force contained Babel on the left and Kuyt on the right, which was okay and even good at times. However, Kuyt (for all his excellent work rate) is not a wide player. He doesn’t have the skill or speed to cut in and go past defenders. He did a reasonable job in that position largely because of dogged determination.
Babel, as we all know is a player of enormous potential but also so frustrating at times. He has the pace to take on some defenders but not always the creative imagination nor the confidence to do so. His crossing also leaves a lot to be desired and so his best position, certainly at the moment appears to be as a support striker. His ability to turn and his shooting skills would support trying him more regularly in this role.
Verdict – I wouldn’t have thought this is going to be Rafa’s main position as surely he would have targeted a wide forward or at very least an out and out winger.
Used in the early part of last season, the standard 4-4-2 will usually be at least a backup formation to most managers, such is it’s familiarity with the players. The roles are well defined and it’s a lot easier to keep the shape in this one or revert to it halfway through a game if circumstances dictate.
I have some concerns about our ability to effectively employ this formation now, due to the distinct lack of wingers we have. Kewell has gone already, Rafa doesn’t seem to favour Pennant at all so he may be on his way, and we are left with Benayoun and Babel. There are other players who could play slightly out of position (Aurelio or Gerrard) or reserve team players (Anderson or Leto) but you have to imagine Rafa won’t rely on this.
A part of this formation that our squad does support is the strikers. Torres will be first choice striker with Kuyt as stand-in. Babel or hopefully Robbie Keane could easily play in the slightly deeper link role behind the striker.
Clearly our strength in depth in defence will mean that 4-4-2 will be very easy to adapt to as Degen and Dossena have now provided 3 options for both the full back roles.
Verdict – There will probably be times during matches when for a number of reasons we may revert to 4-4-2 but because of the lack of wide players I really don’t see how we can make this our number one formation
Three central defenders, 2 wing backs, 3 central midfielders and 2 strikers. Hang on that seems to fit in rather well with our players.
We certainly have 4 very good quality centre backs at Liverpool. Carragher and Skrtel were mostly very good last season. Agger is back from injury and we still have Sami Hyypia who covered excellently for Agger before Skrtel arrived. We also have Jack Hobbs who may feature a little more this season. It certainly seems a shame to play only 2 of these quality defenders and leave at least 2 out.
Wing backs are something that were all the fashion a few years ago but perhaps they are in Rafa’s thoughts again. He has made a big deal out of the attacking qualities of Degen and Dossena and perhaps with backup from Aurelio, Finnan (if he stays), Arbeloa and Insua, this may be something he is seriously thinking out. Dossena probably impressed more than Degen in the friendlies but let’s remember it is very early in their Liverpool career.
The wing backs will often bypass the midfielders, meaning that you won’t necessarily need traditional wingers but 3 good central midfielders. We know we have Gerrard, Mascherano and Alonso who are all first class. We also have Lucas and potentially Gareth Barry.
Although Barry is capable of playing on the left of midfield and even at left back I am sure that Rafa is planning to use him in the centre, where like Stevie G, he is at his most effective. Imagine at home a first choice central midfield of Gerrard, Alonso and Barry.
Perhaps away from home, a little more defensive minded he drops Alonso or Barry and plays Mascherano instead. This would allow Alonso to push forward and play those killer passes rather than be wasted in a defensive midfield role, something he can do but is not ideal for. Being made to play deeper has been a factor in his dip in form over the last 2 seasons where his creativity has been stifled at times.
Up front as we’ve already seen, 2 central strikers appear to fit very well with our players. It also allows Gerrard to be in a central but attacking midfield role with the ball in front of him, rather than playing as a support striker to Torres.
Whilst this worked at times very well last season it was predominantly when Gerrard played longer balls through from midfield to Torres up front rather than short passes when they were both attacking. Gerrard is clearly better running at players than with his back to goal holding the ball up.
Verdict – The heavy reliance on 2 unproven players (Degen and Dossena) worries me greatly but I think this formation (or a variation on it) will be Rafa’s first choice this year