Change of Shape Sees Liverpool Return to Attacking Fluidity

Matt Ladson@mattladsonFeatured ColumnistAugust 31, 2014

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The debut of Mario Balotelli for Liverpool saw Brendan Rodgers change back from a 4-3-3 formation to the 4-1-2-1-2 (aka the 4-4-2 midfield diamond) which saw them prosper at the end of last season.

The change saw a return of Liverpool's attacking fluidity and exciting play that became their trademark in 2013/14.

Indeed, the 3-0 win at Tottenham was like a return to last season for Liverpool fanstheir side enjoyed a comfortable lead and created chances but still looked very vulnerable in defence.

"I thought the back four and goalkeeper were excellent, and we created protection in front of them with our diamond and the two guys up front worked their socks off," Rodgers said, per Sky Sports. "Today was very much a great symbol of what we are, which is a very good team."

Four of Rodgers' summer signings were in the starting XI: Javier Manquillo, Dejan Lovren and Alberto Moreno offered a new-look defence while Balotelli was up front alongside Daniel Sturridge.

The defensive lapses of Lovren and Mamadou Sakho will certainly be a cause for concern, but hopefully they can be attributed to early days—especially given Lovren's change from left- to right-sided centre-back.

With that said, coming so soon after questions arose about the Croatian's performance at Manchester City, Lovren's often poor positional sense is a legitimate concern.


LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 31:  Mario Balotelli of Liverpool looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at White Hart Lane on August 31, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

Focusing on the attack, Balotelli's introduction certainly made Liverpool look like a better side than in their two opening performances against Southampton and Manchester City.

The Italian's finishing was rusty, but his much-questioned work rate was impressive and he and Sturridge showed encouraging signs of a bright future for their partnership.

The presence of a second centre-forward brings out the best in several players.

Jordan Henderson's runs from midfield—from which the opening goal was scored—are a prime example. The opponent's back four are more occupied due to the two forwards and attacking midfielder Raheem Sterling, meaning Henderson's impressive runs from midfield aren't tracked.


Sterling looks far more threatening from a central area, too, as he did last season once Rodgers changed from 4-3-3 to the diamond midfield for the final 10 games of the season.

The 19-year-old finds space between the back four and midfield, picking the ball up, committing defenders and showing his incredible pace.

He picks up possession off the ball as well, consistently winning the ball back, intercepting and reading play excellently.


The diamond shape, as many noted—such as Bleacher Report's Karl Matchett—this week, certainly looks like the best option for Rodgers going forward.

That's not to say that he won't use a 4-3-3 on occasion, but the side certainly look stronger using the diamond midfield.

Bogdan Maran/Associated Press

The positives are numerous: Sturridge looks better when defenders have another forward to be concerned with, Sterling looks better in the central role, Steven Gerrard is given more protection with Henderson and Joe Allen working hard up and down the pitch alongside him and the full-backs are given more space to attack (see: Moreno's incredible goal, for example).

It also sees Liverpool more compact centrally when defending, protecting what is a seemingly fragile defence.

They then focus on quick, fluid, attacking play on the transition, which—as we saw last season—teams struggle to cope with.

Given the pace and strength of an attacking trio of Balotelli, Sturridge and Sterling, ably assisted by the depth of Philippe Coutinho, Lazar Markovic and Rickie Lambert, the tactic of breaking fast and exploiting gaps on the counter certainly seems a prudent one.


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