Give Roberto Martinez credit; if nothing else, the guy has guts.
After a few disparaging results, the Latics found their form and bested Newcastle, Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal in impressive fashion. The run keeps Wigan up for a third straight year and propelled Martinez into the spotlight.
However, little attention is paid to the metric ton of self-confidence it took to see that shift through.
Few remember, for instance, the 8-0 thrashing Wigan took at Stamford Bridge on the day the formation was first deployed.
Many would have given up after that, but not Martinez.
He stuck with his decision and prevailed.
That self-confidence and tactical genius coupled with his locker-room popularity places the Spaniard at the top of the Fenway Sports Group (FSG) wish list.
Thus the question becomes: Which Liverpool players will benefit most from his pass-heavy, attacking football?
What follows is a list of five names. Each player appears poised to thrive at Anfield under Martinez.
The 3-4-3 is rarely seen in the more traditional Premier League. It is a decidedly “European” formation.
Both systems get their width from wing fullbacks. They are asked to push forward and aid the attack.
A player is needed in the Dani Alves mold, someone versatile with both attacking and defensive qualities.
Insert Glen Johnson who is equal parts right back and right midfielder.
Johnson loves getting on the counter-attack and utilizing his speed to stretch defenses. Martinez would give him full license to do so.
Further, the change mitigates Johnson’s largest deficiency.
Critics have decried the Englishman’s tendency to get caught up the pitch.
In this system, Johnson can push forward knowing he has three defenders as cover. Essentially, there is a right center-back in place specifically for this purpose.
Christian Maggio has been called Napoli’s “fourth tenor” because of the added dimension he gives his offense. With Hugo Campagnaro guarding the flank, he is able to attack with deadly effect.
Johnson could be the English Maggio.
Expect a huge uptick in confidence and productivity from the former Chelsea man if given this kind of freedom.
Calling Martinez’ formation a 3-4-3 is somewhat disingenuous. In reality, it is more likened to a modified 5-3-2.
Although there are technically three in the back, five defenders are required to make the system work.
For Martin Kelly, that is welcome news. Kelly is the first choice reserve at present and would be the most likely addition to the starting 11.
Beyond the numbers game, Kelly also has the requisite skills for the job.
The right center-back is a hybrid position which asks that personnel serve as both a traditional central defender and as a full-back when cover is needed on the outside.
Therefore, Kelly’s experience is ideal.
He plays both inside and outside for Liverpool. Further, at the impressionable age of 22, he is readily adaptable to taking on a new system.
Finally, Martinez has an outstanding record of getting the most out of young talent.
Kelly received a call-up from Roy Hodgson for a reason. He has a bright future ahead of him for both club and country.
With a young manager and a regular starting spot, the sky is the limit.
The two support players on Wigan function more as central forwards than as traditional wingers.
The wing-backs push them into the middle of the pitch where they are expected to create and go at the opposition.
Thus, the ideal fit is someone with vision, speed and technical ability.
Lionel Messi is the gold standard.
Note that Messi does not do a tremendous amount of crossing. It is far more necessary that he be able to cut in than put it on the striker’s head from outside.
If you are a Reds fan and reading this, light bulbs should be going off.
Luis Suarez is tailor made for the job. He plays in a similar right-sided auxiliary role for the Uruguayan National team to great effect.
Kenny Dalglish’s obstinate deployment of his star player as lone striker was a major component of the team’s shortcomings.
Suarez is a world-class creator but not a true finisher. He is happiest running at defenses and creating seams.
Thus, the 3-4-3 is exactly what he needs.
He is at his best when he has a poacher to complement and the pressure is not on him to score.
Roberto Martinez will realize this and unlock his true potential.
As Kenny Dalglish rightly pointed out, Carroll was “unplayable” late in the campaign.
His performance in the F.A. Cup was outstanding. Who knows what could have happened had he received a full 90 minutes.
Further, he appears set to start for England this summer.
Getting the nod over Jermaine Defoe and Danny Welbeck should be a huge confidence boost.
To succeed at Liverpool he needs two things. One, the formation should maximize his abilities. Second, the next coach has to stick with him and sustain his confidence.
Dalglish seemed all too ready to pull his £35 million investment in favor of Suarez. It hurt both players and as a result, the team.
By the time Carroll finally got a sustained run with both Gerrard and Suarez in support, he thrived. However, it was too late to achieve anything of note.
Martinez has proven in his short time as manager he can get the most out of talent. I have already mentioned Victor Moses. Charlez N’Zogbia's form while at Wigan is further evidence.
The formation also suits Carroll. It requires a big man up front to play off the formation.
Edinson Cavani at Napoli is a great model to follow. He does an outstanding job of supporting Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik. More importantly, he puts the ball in the back of the net.
Franco Di Santo led Wigan with seven goals as the team’s lone striker. With Carroll you get the same height and in my opinion, far more class.
Carroll is underrated in his ability to distribute the ball. Labeling him as nothing more than a target man undersells his talent.
He is a solid passer and creates as often as he scores. Further, when on form, he is an outstanding finisher.
Martinez will give him the opportunity to shine. Expect the big man to finish near the top of the Premier League score sheet in 2013.
It is not entirely clear who plays as mirror image to Suarez on the left side.
Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez are older and appear surplus to requirements.
Stewart Downing has not exhibited the ability to go inside as this requires. If anything he might be more comfortable playing at left wing back.
Craig Bellamy and Joe Cole are possibilities. However, Cole could easily stay at Lille, and Bellamy is not an every-week starter given his age.
The final option is 18-year-old starlet Raheem Sterling.
The English youngster got his first call-up in March of last year and did not disappoint. He appears poised to figure heavily in the next campaign.
The similarities with Sterling are pretty striking.
Both offer plenty of pace and technique. They use their speed to go at defenders and create chances.
Sterling is as raw as talent comes. His appearances for Liverpool have been tantalizing.
Unless movements in the transfer market drastically alter the pecking order, he should get an opportunity to prove his worth.
With Martinez at the helm, there is no reason he cannot launch his career.
I can see why FSG is so intrigued by the idea of hiring Roberto Martinez.
Liverpool cannot compete with Manchester City and Chelsea financially. They have to find their competitive advantage elsewhere.
In that case, utilizing a playing style so unique to the Premier League presents a very attractive option.
Liverpool cannot expect to compete for a Champions League spot if they play the same way as their competitors with half the payroll.
They have to fight asymmetrically. Roberto Martinez has proven he knows how.
At the very least, he will get more out of the five players listed.
Who else do you think benefits/loses out?