Identifying Liverpool's Tactical Plan B Under Brendan Rodgers
Liverpool's appointment of Brendan Rodgers as manager in the summer of 2012 was a statement of intent: The Reds were to move toward a tactical blueprint which would see them dominate matches and steadily move back toward the summit of English football.
It was never going to happen overnight, nor in a single entire season, but there has nonetheless been a subtle shift away from the pass, pass, pass routine which the boss preached as he walked through the doors of Anfield for the first time.
Meanwhile, with the Reds failing to score in three of their last few Premier League games, calls intensify from some quarters for a return of Andy Carroll, for a more direct style of play, for a so-called Plan B to be created.
But don't Liverpool already have one?
What Exactly Is Plan A?
Death by football.
That's what Brendan Rodgers promised was coming to Anfield in one independent media conference early in his Liverpool reign. The former Swansea man loves his team to have the ball, control possession and dictate the flow of the game. He also favours pressing high up the pitch without the ball and getting the wide forwards constantly making runs toward the centre of the pitch when attacks are being formed from the opposite flank.
It hasn't always been a smooth path, nor a linear one to this point, but there have undoubtedly been flashes of brilliance from the Reds on the pitch and entire games when they have torn teams apart in the manner that Rodgers wants to make Liverpool's trademark.
There is more to come, both on the training ground and in the transfer market, until this is a regular, week-after-week feature of Liverpool's play, though.
The Reds' most recent fixture provides an example of how Brendan Rodgers opts to switch not just the style of play, but also the layout of the players on the pitch in an attempt to influence the result of a match.
It came late on, but Liverpool changed from their base 4-3-3 (visually a lopsided 4-2-3-1) to a 3-5-2 system.
Martin Skrtel came on to replace Stewart Downing, giving Liverpool a back three. The two full-backs were pushed forward into wing-back roles, letting them provide width much higher up the pitch, and Philippe Coutinho was positioned centrally once more ahead of a two-man central midfield. Fabio Borini and Daniel Sturridge were both able to try to stay central, giving the Reds a rare two-man attack.
This is just one, and the most recent, example of a tactical switch from Rodgers, who has also gone with a very identifiable 4-4-1-1 and a narrow 4-4-2 at times.
Putting an overload of players in certain areas of the pitch aims to help Liverpool retain possession in dangerous zones and find a way through packed defences.
Two Up Top
As alluded to in the previous slide, the Everton fixture saw the Reds play with two up front for a period.
It's not a usual ploy of Rodgers, who prefers three forwards stretched across the width of the pitch, but Liverpool have paired Suarez behind Sturridge at times in the past couple of months to give a greater offensive presence. While it ensures Liverpool have more finishers on the pitch, it has also impacted on the team's balance, especially in midfield.
This is a dilemma which Rodgers has to find the answer to next season: How to fit all the club's attacking players in the same starting XI without risking the protection of the defence.
It was the turn of Borini and Sturridge to feature together in the latter stages of the Merseyside derby, playing as a true front two for the final minutes.
While it can seem a more offensive change to play two centre-forwards instead of one, it is usually dependent on the other eight outfield positions to determine whether the ball actually spends more time in the final third or not, as there are less players to occupy spaces in the rest of the pitch.
Emphasis on Counter-Attack
Whereas earlier in the season there was a conscious effort on the part of the Reds to try to dominate possession in all areas of the pitch, now it is clear that some games see Liverpool try to leave much more open space ahead of play for the likes of Coutinho to exploit.
This change may be partly because of the lack of pace in the middle third of Liverpool's players; often the Reds maintained long spells of possession in their own half and were unable to break forward the 30-40 yards required to put pressure on the opposition's defence, especially when they were liable to press the Reds high up the field themselves.
In addition, the restoration of Jamie Carragher in defence means the back line needs to drop deeper than they did previously, which in turn pulls back the midfield block, again leaving space to exploit in the central and final thirds.
Either way, there is certainly more of an emphasis on building more directly and quickly now, which has at times given Liverpool a big boost in attacking against teams and at other times has shown just how far there is to go for the Reds to dominate each match the way they want to.
For Brendan Rodgers, it is again a question of balance which needs to be addressed this summer in the transfer market.