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Liverpool: 5 Tactical Options for Reds to Solve Goal-Scoring Crisis

Vince SiuFeatured ColumnistSeptember 4, 2012

Liverpool: 5 Tactical Options for Reds to Solve Goal-Scoring Crisis

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    Transfer deadline day passed by without Liverpool bringing anyone in.

    Naturally, there has been outrage from the fans as to why exactly Liverpool let go of a number of players in the last few days, only to bring in a precise total of zero.

    Club owner John Henry has even taken to Liverpool’s official website to release an open letter to fans, attempting to placate their anger at the lack of transfer activity, and manager Brendan Rodgers will have a few questions for his board as well.

    In a team badly in need of goals and firepower, Andy Carroll’s departure for West Ham has left Liverpool with only Luis Suarez and Fabio Borini as the only striking options.

    Former No. 10 Michael Owen has been linked with a shock return to Anfield, but for now, in the upcoming international break, Rodgers must still only consider players he has at his disposal.

    So how can Liverpool solve their goal-scoring crisis?

    Let’s look at five options that Rodgers should consider—how, why and when they will work—and, as usual, feel free to have your say in the comments below.

Assumptions for the Defence and Midfield

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    This article will look predominantly at Liverpool’s options and possible tactical changes up front, which involves the front three in a 4-3-3 and the front five in a 4-2-3-1.

    We will assume that the back five are constant: Pepe Reina as goalkeeper, Glen Johnson as right-back, Jose Enrique as left-back and Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger as the two center-backs.

    In Lucas’ absence, we will go with Rodgers’ use of Joe Allen in the holding midfield role, and we will also assume that new loan signing Nuri Sahin will take a left-sided place in the midfield alongside Allen.

    This leaves four players and positions up for grabs and rotation, and this will be the focus of our discussion.

    For immediate first-team purposes, we won’t consider young Adam Morgan as a viable starting option up front.

    Given Stewart Downing’s imminent rebranding as a left-back (and anonymity as a winger), Jordan Henderson’s non-appearances under Rodgers and Jonjo Shelvey’s improving maturity, we will consider Shelvey as the first-choice stand-in in the midfield area.

4-3-3: Sterling, Borini, Suarez

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    How It Will Work

    This is the most straightforward out of all five options, and will use the same players that Rodgers started with against Arsenal on Sunday.

    With Steven Gerrard taking up the final slot on the right-hand side of the three-man midfield, this 4-3-3 simply involves Fabio Borini and Luis Suarez changing positions up front.

    Borini will move into the central striking role with Suarez out on the right, and Raheem Sterling will continue in his left forward position.

     

    Why It Will Work

    Suarez isn’t cutting it as center-forward, plain and simple. He doesn’t have the clinical finishing required to take advantage of the chances available to him and the ones that he creates by himself.

    Borini has displayed the work-rate and positional sense previously seen in Dirk Kuyt, and like Kuyt, his main position is central striker.

    A simple switch of positions will see Suarez turn into creator-in-chief rather than finisher-in-chief, leaving the chances for the more clinical (hopefully) Borini to finish off.

     

    When It Will Work

    Instantly.

    This doesn’t involve any change in Rodgers’ starting players and would be the easiest option right off the bat.

    Indeed, before Sterling’s rapid rise into Liverpool’s starting XI, Suarez took up a left-sided position with Borini in the center in their preseason and early Europa League games.

4-3-3: Suarez, Borini, Gerrard

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    How It Will Work

    Sterling is the one sacrificed from his left forward position here, with Suarez taking it and Borini moving into the center.

    Gerrard moves up to a right forward role, and Shelvey takes Gerrard’s spot on the right side of midfield.

     

    Why It Will Work

    The rationale behind moving Borini into the center carries from the previous option.

    Suarez on the left will see him take his unpredictability and creativity to the left flank, with the added benefit that he is equally comfortable going outside the full-back or cutting inside to shoot or lay on a pass.

    Gerrard’s energy, all-action style and crossing ensure that he will be a top asset on the right flank.

    Indeed, his finest-ever personal season in terms of goals scored was in 2005-2006 when he notched 23 from a right-sided supporting forward role in a 4-2-3-1 under Rafael Benitez.

    His place will be taken by Shelvey, who currently has the most similar attributes to Gerrard himself in the first team and will require him to develop his positional awareness and discipline.

     

    When It Will Work

    In a few games.

    Gerrard has gone on record saying that his preferred position is central midfield, so Rodgers would have to work on rebranding him as a right forward in training.

    Sahin, Allen and Shelvey will also need to combine and work on their positional interchanges, as well as passing patterns.

4-2-3-1: Sterling, Suarez, Gerrard, Borini

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    How It Will Work

    A hark back to the Benitez days, when 4-2-3-1 was the formation in favor at Anfield.

    With Allen sitting in front of the defence in more of a midfield anchor role and Sahin slightly to his left and slightly more advanced, Sterling, Suarez and Gerrard form the attacking midfield trio behind Borini as a lone striker.

    A mobile attacking unit could see Suarez and Gerrard switch positions throughout the match, Sterling and Suarez/Gerrard swap flanks and all four players interchange positions if need be.

     

    Why It Will Work

    Gerrard’s merits on the right side have been addressed in the previous option.

    While Suarez returns to a central role, this is more of a second striker position where he will focus on creating space in the middle of the park for Sterling and Gerrard to come in, and creating chances for Borini in front of him.

    Suarez’s work-rate and midfield pressing will also make him an invaluable asset in this role.

    Finally, Borini’s advanced position will mean he can focus more on the penalty area finishing chances rather than tracking back and doing his usual pressing, turning him into an out-and-out striker.

     

    When It Will Work

    The training would need to start immediately.

    Training as in redeveloping Borini as a lone striker and Suarez in a more withdrawn attacking role.

    Sterling and Gerrard’s positions on the flanks will suit them to the ground, and with a few training sessions on switching positions, this could work a treat on actual matchdays.

4-2-3-1: Suarez, Shelvey, Gerrard, Borini

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    How It Will Work

    Another option for 4-2-3-1, with Suarez taking Sterling’s left-sided role and Shelvey moving into the attacking midfield position.

     

    Why It Will Work

    Suarez, Gerrard and Borini’s positions here have already been well addressed, and the focus should be on Shelvey as the central attacking midfielder.

    With similar attributes to his captain, Shelvey has the attacking instinct, long-range shooting and passing range suited to support Borini in the “hole.”

    His evident maturing in the midfield has already been rewarded by Rodgers, as evidenced by his rise toward his first-choice stand-in midfielder.

    Giving him extra attacking responsibilities would further aid his development, much as Gerrard himself was groomed, and there is the added benefit of Gerrard/Suarez taking up the central role at times throughout the match.

     

    When It Will Work

    Perhaps slightly more training for this option.

    Rodgers will need to find out if Shelvey is cut out for such attacking responsibilities, and if he has the all-round defensive and positional discipline to hold down this position.

    But with experienced players around him and the prospect of positional switching, this would be a decent alternative to the previous 4-2-3-1 option with Sterling in the lineup.

4-3-3: Sterling, Gerrard, Suarez

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    How It Will Work

    Sterling and Suarez remain on the flanks, but Gerrard would be the new central striker at the expense of Borini, with Shelvey starting on the right side of midfield.

    Also known as: Liverpool’s very own 4-6-0.

     

    Why It Will Work

    From a formation point of view, 4-3-3 is very much Rodgers’ preference, and he also has the perfect mentor in Spain’s Vicente del Bosque if he is to implement a Spain-style 4-6-0.

    We’ve seen in other cases that aging players might be rebranded into new positions, as Manchester United’s Ryan Giggs has moved to a more central and withdrawn role, while Paul Scholes and Chelsea’s Frank Lampard have moved from the attacking midfield to a deep-lying position.

    In Gerrard’s case, his most natural progression isn’t deeper on the pitch, but more forward.

    Simply put, Gerrard is the most clinical finisher that Liverpool have on their books, and also their most experienced and versatile player.

    With his attacking instincts and ability to time his runs into the box and get on the end of chances, Gerrard is basically a tailor-made central forward and, with time, might even turn into one of the most devastating finishers in the Premier League.

    When Liverpool need goals, Gerrard usually comes up trumps. Now is the time that Gerrard should put his team first and provide the finishing that his team have been lacking so badly.

     

    When It Will Work

    Potentially instantly.

    Which, combined with the above factors, makes this the most attractive and perhaps most effective option out of the five considered here.

    Gerrard’s versatility will stand him in good stead, while his finishing and positioning, as discussed above, will mean he will thrive in a center-forward’s position.

    The key to this working is Rodgers’ willingness to experiment.

Your Thoughts

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    We’ve considered five options to address Liverpool’s goal-scoring woes here.

    What do you think? Do you have any alternative tactical options to suggest?

    Let us know in the comments below—and keep in mind to limit your personnel choices to those already in the squad.

     

    Also check out: Ranking All 20 EPL Teams’ Summer Transfer Windows

    For extensive coverage on the Premier League, please check out my Bleacher Report writer’s profile. For all things Liverpool—match reactions, opinions et al—please subscribe to The Red Armchair.

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