The need for Liverpool to sign a central midfielder this January transfer window went up a level with the news that Lucas Leiva will be sidelined for the next two months.
Already we've seen a multitude of players linked with arriving at Anfield to solve Brendan Rodgers' midfield conundrum. A conundrum that many will argue persists even with Lucas fit and available.
The Liverpool boss is left with only Steven Gerrard, Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson as first-team central midfielders. Luis Alberto is the only other player capable of filling of the role but has rarely done so since arriving from Barcelona B in the summer—where he was used in a more attacking role among the front three.
After the failed attempt to use all four of his attacking talents—Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho—against Aston Villa, Rodgers will surely now look to regain the midfield control that is vital to a possession-based game. Therefore, a change in shape back to 4-3-3 is logical.
However, that would mean Gerrard, Allen and Henderson being required to play every game for the next two months—a tough ask.
An additional player, whether on loan or a permanent deal, would be extremely welcome.
However, there is another way to cover for the lack of options in midfield should reinforcements not arrive this January.
Change in Shape
The beginning of the season, immediately after Suarez's return from suspension, saw Rodgers change to a 3-5-2/3-4-1 shape.
It would be difficult for Rodgers to return to this formation immediately, but once Mamadou Sakho and Jose Enrique return—both are due to do so this month according to PhysioRoom—there would be options aplenty.
Indeed, the change in shape could solve other problems, such as Glen Johnson and Philippe Coutinho's dip in form and the fragility in defence.
Many supporters were excited by the prospect of the talented Brazilian being give the freedom of the No. 10 role behind Suarez and Sturridge, where Victor Moses was deputising. But Coutinho's return from injury coincided with a change away from 3-5-2 back to 4-3-3.
The 21-year-old is off-form at present, but his talents seem perfect for the position behind the front two and would likely result in a change in fortunes, allowing him the space to express himself and play the through balls for the deadly duo.
Rather than requiring all three of the available central midfielders, Rodgers could now partner two of Gerrard, Allen or Henderson centrally. All of a sudden he has options centrally and one is able to be rested when required.
That's not to say that all three couldn't be accommodated; Henderson played the right-sided wing-back role in Johnson's absence and could do so again. Which also solves the issue of Johnson's form, giving him competition for his place.
Additionally, Johnson in the wing-back role would free him of defensive duties and allow him to embrace his attacking side in the other half.
Admittedly, the system and change in shape does have its weakness, which were well exposed by Arsenal at the Emirates in November.
However, lessons can be learnt—a phrase Liverpool fans are getting used to hearing—and improvements made. The wing-backs that day were Jon Flanagan and Aly Cissokho. Would it be too presumptuous to suggest Johnson and Enrique as wing-backs would be an improvement? Both players' attributes are more suited to the role.
Many supporters, myself included, have held a belief that a "double-pivot" of Lucas and Gerrard just does not work, which was made abundantly clear in that 2-0 defeat. Allen and Henderson, two more mobile and dynamic players, would, for many, be an improvement.
The change in shape would give Rodgers an abundance of options; Raheem Sterling played the wing-back role excellently as Liverpool changed to 3-5-2 after going 2-0 behind to Villa and could do so again.
Johnson played as the right-sided centre-back of the three against Villa once the change in shape took place shortly before half-time and could so again, which creates a fluid option for him to press forward when in possession and the wing-back, perhaps Henderson, to move inside to dominate centrally.
The image above is one way that Liverpool could line up, with options such as Sterling or Johnson at wing-back, one of Gerrard, Allen or Henderson being rested, Toure at right-sided centre-back or Daniel Agger once fit replacing Martin Skrtel.
It may not be the best option, which many feel would be sticking to 4-3-3, but with such limited options in midfield, it is certainly something Rodgers will be considering. It's a possible solution to the problem—should a new central midfielder prove elusive this January.
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