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Liverpool Tactical Preview: How will Brendan Rodgers’ side set-up in the 2014/15 season?

As we move into the new club football season, Outside of the Boot will be publishing regular Tactical Previews of the sides from across Europe’s top seven leagues. This one focuses on Premier League runners-up, Liverpool, led by Brendan Rodgers. Sami Faizullah takes a look at their basic formation, analyses their tactics, key player and their potential key young players of the 2014/15 season.

Brendan Rodgers has got his Liverpool side playing some enthralling football, fueling the imagination of the Anfield faithful. Qualification for the Champions League is the bare minimum objective once again, something they surpassed last season, and while the side may not tempt those looking for pure ‘names’ on paper, the potential his side possess for the next few seasons, and the ability to click into Rodgers’ system in the present day, is quite remarkable. It’s clear that Rodgers has a tactical system in mind, and an overall outlook for the club. There is no ‘marquee’ player (against the wishes of the loud voices on Social Media), but one must ask is that even important when you can rather have a set of players to fit into a clear system?

Formation | How will they set-up?

With further games, two competitions and much needed options, Rodgers can possibly be tempted to implement two separate formations. A diamond might well be more suited for the Champions League.

4-2-3-1: The midfield two of Gerrard and Henderson remains, worryingly. We know they aren’t the most ideal together but they do form the best partnership from those available. Emre Can has come in but he doesn’t solve the need of a defensive midfielder. A fluid attacking trio are positioned behind Sturridge while Lallana (who is out at the start) will likely compete with Markovic for a spot in the XI. Henderson will be seen providing more in attack, but it’s important he finds his step in defence as well, given his captain’s lack of defensive ability. Gerrard himself will be there mainly as a deeper creator.

Liverpool Tactics 2014-15

(Full lines indicate player movement, dashed lines indicate ball movement)

Diamond: The idea behind this is from a more defensive ideology (explained in detail later). Sterling’s position may well be under threat from someone like Emre Can who is more defensively sound, but his attacking influence will tempt Rodgers into selection. Rickie Lambert has been displayed below but in all likelihood, a new striker would take up his position. Expect Glen Johnson to feature more in Europe, given his experience and attacking width.

Liverpool Tactics 2014-2015

(Full lines indicate player movement, dashed lines indicate ball movement)

Analysis | What can we expect from them tactically?

Now to completely dissect the two formations would require a much lengthier piece, so a combined analysis will be done which does justice to both the approaches.

Coutinho’s role: With Luis Suarez sold, a lot of the window has been spent discussing who his replacement will be; the truth is that Liverpool haven’t looked for one, nor are they going to. Suarez’ influence on the side is unmatched, but that influence meant that the entire system revolved around him (an unhealthy approach); his absence would make it all fall apart. Neither the player, nor the role is being replaced.

MORE READING | Expert Q&A: Everything you need to know about Liverpool for the 2014/15 season 

But the importance of Brazilian Philippe Coutinho has certainly increased further. Deployed in a position which justifies the number on his back, Coutinho will be seen as the centre of attack. His creative ability will outshine his need to score, but with him played right at the centre of the attacking phase, much of the play will go through him (like with Suarez). Sterling & Lallana on either side will constantly be more advanced than him, while Henderson will provide support in attack too. This does leave the side short in midfield in a transition phase leading from loss of possession, here again Coutinho will be required defensively (though not one that inspires confidence). With only Gerrard as the only cover for the defence, it does prove to be worrying.

Nevertheless, Coutinho will thrive and flourish in that #10 role; a fluid one but arguably less so than last season to allow the Brazilian to have maximum impact in the centre. As seen in both the formations, he’s the man linking all the individuals up in the attacking phase. Quick one-twos, advanced triangles, and neat through balls, Coutinho has the important role in this system.

The diamond approach: The attacking approach shifts slightly with the diamond, though Coutinho’s role remains the same. The crucial difference arises defensively. Henderson retains his importance both in attack but even more so out wide in defence. Sterling, who has shown good defensive maturity will need to convince further of his performance in that regard, with Emre Can a possible option in there to replicate Henderson’s play on the other side. Gerrard’s defensive ability will be under-pressure again here, the narrow system is to reduce the burden on him while also cover in wide areas. If the opposition can be kept under control, then in possession Gerrard’s creativity will be lethal.

Liverpool Midfield Set-Up

The above illustration is from Liverpool’s 3-2 win over Manchester City, which perfectly illustrates the diamond. The roles of Coutinho and Sterling will be alternated to allow the Brazilian in his much fancied #10 role, Henderson & Sterling (or Can) with defensive cover out-wide, Gerrard with the covering man deep in midfield (though his role is ofcourse more of a creator than a defender). The full-backs need to provide width for this (explained later).

The benefits are the defensive cover provided, and again Coutinho’s creativity has the chance to pick out two strikers ahead of him. The worrying bit again would be Steven Gerrard deep in the centre of the diamond and not one to be trusted in a defensive transition.

Attacking Movement: Again without dissecting both tactics separately, movement on & off the ball proved to be vital for Liverpool last season. The 4-2-3-1 would allow the attacking trio to shift positions constantly with all four options for that position (Coutinho, Sterling, Markovic, Lallana) fairly adaptable to either a central role, or one out wide on either side. Though Sturridge isn’t one to stick on as a pure centre-forward, it would be best if he did, also allowing the wider attackers of the three behind him to make runs into the box. Getting Coutinho into a penetrative central role may not be the focus, given his lack of composure in front of goal. But Rodgers would love his #10 to be a more complete player.

Having said that, one can expect more movement from Sturridge in a diamond. If Henderson and Sterling are deployed on either side, the latter clearly has more attacking flair & intent than the former, his movements up ahead will be drafted by Sturridge shifting to a wide position (with Henderson’s pre-occupation being defensively). Thus the 4-1-2-1-2 could morph into a 4-3-3 as Rodgers’ systems thrive on these transitions & movements. Sterling could add the third number in the final phase, Lambert (or the new striker) the central figure; Gerrard’s lack of movement means he’ll remain the central figure with Coutinho possibly shifting between a wider and central role.

Defensive set-up & movement: The above attacking movement can be facilitated by defensive movement, especially that of the full-backs. Though the thinking behind the diamond is to provide adequate cover from the two central midfielders in wide areas, the full-backs are required to deal with it as well, while also providing the width of the system. Proper full-back movement and tracking back would allow the central midfielders to successfully execute a narrow system (which would reduce that aforementioned burden on Captain Gerrard).

Liverpool's midfield attempt to narrow play

If Liverpool can play that narrow diamond, it would significantly reduce opposition threat in that area, while the full-backs can then reduce the defensive burden on the central midfielders (Henderson & Sterling/Can) by covering the wide areas.

One can expect Glen Johnson to start more in this approach; though growing unpopular among the fanbase, he is still favoured by Brendan Rodgers and his ability to provide width to a narrow diamond might tempt the manager into that decision. Moreno too will be required to provide width but lesser than Johnson. It would mean that when Johnson moves forward, Moreno’s movement should be more cautious allowing more numbers in a transitional defensive phase. This would apply to both above formations.

But Johnson’s participation may be restricted as Rodgers’ tries to incorporate one of Flanagan or Manquillo though the latter is still rather unproven and inexperienced for senior level football.

In central defence, Dejan Lovren will certainly prove to be a worthy addition, and possibly the best signing they’ve made. His defensive intelligence and leadership is crucial, while his ball-playing ability is unmatched. His addition to defence will be the difference this season (rather than replacing 30+ goals, that would reduce the goals conceded, both serving the same purpose). Incorporating both Sakho & Lovren is the dream, an unlikely one, but expect Skrtel to retain his position. What the Croat also crucially brings is passing ability from the deeper area, more accurate and quicker passes into the attacking third.

Key Player | Who will be the stand-out player for the system?

Without a doubt, Coutinho’s influence on this side will be absolutely exceptional. His ability to pull the strings in advanced areas will be at the fore-front, and again the closest replacement to Suarez; he’ll connect everything in the attacking phase. What he lacked last season was consistency and composure in front of goal, though the latter would improve him overall, his role as a creator is what will set him apart. He’s the one that allows both the 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 to function efficiently.

Talent Radar | Who will be the key young player this season?

Philippe Coutinho has already been mentioned and remarkably still eligible for Talent Radar but the Liverpool side is filled with youngsters looking to impress and hold important roles in the squad.

Raheem Sterling: Continuing on from where he left-off, Sterling will start the season as a crucial part of Liverpool’s system. His speed, turn of pace and surprising strength make him stand-out in the side. He will be required to play a more penetrative game this season, as his requirement in the attacking third and in front of goal will only increase. // Detailed Scout Report on Raheem Sterling.

Alberto Moreno: On a personal level, always felt Jose Enrique is a quality left-back both in defence & attack; his loss to injury last season could certainly be cited as a factor in turning some of those close results into wins. Alberto Moreno solves that issue, crucially being equally adept both in attack & defence. The defence certainly looks more solid with his (and Lovren’s) addition// Detailed Scout Report on Alberto Moreno.

Emre Can: Despite the impressive pre-season, I’m still not fully convinced on Can, his (lack of ) positional sense prevents him from playing as a pure defensive midfielder. But it would be unfair to ignore him in this section based purely on opinion. His role is key this season, possibly as cover to Gerrard when a more defensive approach is required, and in a wide position in the diamond.

Of course the likes of Jon Flanagan, Javier Manquillo, Lazar Markovic will all play a fairly significant part while Jordan Ibe can be given a few chances in the senior squad as well.

Written by Sami Faizullah. Chief Editor of Outside of the Boot.

You can read all our 2014/15 Tactical Previews, and all articles in our Shankly’s Men Liverpool blog.

Sami Faizullah

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