Liverpool Manager Search: How Would Roberto Martinez's Tactics Fit the Reds?

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistMay 25, 2012

WIGAN, ENGLAND - MAY 13:  Wigan Athletic manager Roberto Martinez looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Wigan Athletic and Wolverhampton Wanderers at DW Stadium on May 13, 2012 in Wigan, England.  (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

Liverpool Football Club seem to be ramping up their search for a new manager after it was widely reported that Wigan Athletic boss Roberto Martinez had been invited to Miami for an interview with the club.

Latics owner Dave Whelan aired his views that Martinez would have an answer in the next couple of days as to whether or not he would be taking the job—this, despite no official confirmation from Liverpool that Martinez was a front-runner for the manager's post or that he would be eventually offered it.

The Reds have been said to be looking at up to 12 candidates for the vacant manager's post but, amongst others, former Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas seemed to fall out of contention, leaving Martinez as the bookies' favourite.

A supposed photograph of Martinez walking through Miami with principal club owner John W. Henry fuelled the fire of speculation on social networks.

With this in mind, and the possible imminent announcement that Martinez would be the Reds' new manager, let's take a look at how he might set about bringing Liverpool back into contention for a Champions League position, which will be the ultimate aim for whoever is picked as Liverpool boss.

Though usually he operated with a standard (1-)4-2-3-1 system at Wigan for his first couple of seasons, Martinez found far more success this term after the new year, when he switched to a more solid back-three system.

By operating with two wide players capable of both defending and attacking, Wigan were able to quickly flood the midfield in possession or have four or five defenders back when their opponents had the ball, making them difficult to break down and fast to counterattack after a transition.

Wigan's 3-4-3 system under Roberto Martinez
Wigan's 3-4-3 system under Roberto Martinez

In the final third, Martinez eschewed the more familiar "two forwards" setup in a typical (1-)5-3-2 and operated with two fluid, interchanging players behind one central striker, essentially giving Wigan a (1-)3-4-3 formation.

Does this system suit Liverpool?

Well, yes. The Reds have employed it before, successfully, and the players both at the club and who they have been linked with would certainly fit in.

Liverpool would arguably be better equipped to play this system as they benefit from a more technical central defence and a goalkeeper who prefers to play behind a high line, both key in playing efficiently with a back-three.

Starting in defence (we'll presume Pepe Reina remains at Liverpool and in goal), the back three system offers two ways to play; the compact, tight-knit trio who stay close and move laterally, and the more fluid, width-of-the-pitch back three.

The second one is the option favoured by Martinez and which Liverpool have employed in the past.

In the centre (No. 5 on the graphic) a strong, domineering and organisational character is needed. Gary Caldwell performed this role for Wigan—not a world-beater, but fearless, aerially impressive and certainly capable of barking orders at the defence.

Wearing the Red of Liverpool, see Martin Skrtel for this role, should he remain at the club. Not as much of a vocal player perhaps, but Skrtel nonetheless is positionally more aware now than at any other time in his career and, with two other defenders alongside him will be less likely to feel the need to surge out of position in an attempt to nick the ball away from an attacker.

Jamie Carragher, as he winds down his career as a squad player, would provide ample cover for this role.

The two defenders either side of the central player (Nos. 4 and 6) require far better technical skills as they are more often required to bring the ball out of defence, start new attacks and combine with the players ahead of them in midfield.

Indeed, it is beneficial if they have experience in playing at full-back, as this more properly gives them an appreciation of the spaces behind them when the back three are spread across the width of the pitch.

In addition, when the opposition are attacking (especially on the counter) and look to switch play, the back three can function as a standard four-man defence, tilting so that the centre-back on the side their opponent attacks immediately becomes an out-and-out full-back, safe with the knowledge that he has a full compliment of defenders inside him on the cover.

On the left side (No. 6), Daniel Agger clearly ticks all the right boxes.

There are few defenders in the Premier League as adept at moving from defence to midfield and even attack with the ball at their feet as the Dane, while he can pick a pass or even cross from deep with his trusty left foot.

Opposite to Agger, the right central-defensive slot (No. 4) is an area which might have to be upgraded in the transfer market, but Sebastian Coates has shown enough promising displays to suggest he will be a real option for Liverpool in the future.

Martin Kelly will also doubtless feature centrally as he continues to gain experience. With his stint at right-back showing his prowess on the ball, this adventurous central defensive role might be perfectly made for him.

Danny Wilson, should he not be loaned out again or sold, would also offer cover for Agger on the left.

Along with the two specialist central defenders, the wing-back positions (Nos. 2 and 3) are arguably the "make-or-break" players of this system.

Acting for much of the game as the only attacking players looking to offer real width, the wing-backs need to be capable of getting up and down the pitch for the full 90 minutes—week in, week out.

Needless to say a huge requirement of the position is having incredible stamina reserves, while the most successful players in this role also need good pace to fully exploit turnovers of possession in an instant.

An ability to cross and pass infield, confidence to run beyond the attacker further up the pitch (with or without the ball) and a fierce, reliable desire to get back into position defensively once the ball has been lost...truly, this position places a lot of demands on a player.

With Glen Johnson on the right (No. 2) and Jose Enrique on the left (No. 3), the Reds are already stocked with players who can play this role—though the Spaniard in particular certainly needs competition for places after his form notably dropped off in the second half of last season.

Youngsters Jon Flanagan and Jack Robinson will aspire to play this role in the future, but neither will play more than half a dozen Premier League matches next term unless Liverpool suffer heavy injury losses.

Martin Kelly is also a first-team-capable player to fulfil this role down the right.

While both Jose Enrique and Johnson have been questioned defensively (rightly or wrongly), another plus for the wing-back system is that it allows extra cover behind the wide defender—even if he is beaten, the central defender on that side is able to tilt across and offer another obstacle to the attacker.

Moving into midfield, Liverpool have an excess of underperforming personnel which would need to be honed carefully to fit into this system.

The basic premise of playing two central midfielders (Nos. 8 and 10) is that one holds and the other offers an extra body in attack.

With three defenders and only two midfielders it is important to utilise the extra defender in a more advanced position to help with ball retention, though of course both midfielders need to be excellent at this as well.

Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva are without question two of the first names on Liverpool's team-sheet—though injuries to both meant that they were hardly ever available for the same games last season.

Lucas is set to recover this summer and be ready for preseason, but the lack of real cover for him in defensive midfield cost the Reds dearly last term.

Both Gerrard and Lucas get through a high workload in a game and both are comfortable with the ball at their feet.

Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam, Jonjo Shelvey and Jay Spearing offer the competition—if Liverpool are serious about getting back into the top four next season, this needs improving, whatever system they end up playing.

Ahead of the two centre midfielders come the two creative players (Nos. 7 and 11), whose job it is to make everything tick in the final third.

At Wigan, Roberto Martinez alternated these roles, depending on who the opposition was.

Victor Moses and Shaun Maloney arguably enjoyed the best success in these roles, as both players were happy working from the flanks and cutting inside onto their stronger foot, as well as running with the ball at defenders and looking to fashion shooting opportunities.

Liverpool have one very obvious candidate for that type of role—Luis Suarez, their most creative and dynamic attacker is far and away the most dangerous final third player Liverpool possess at present. This type of role, with its freedom and unpredictability, coupled with his own prodigious work rate would mean he would be a constant supply of chances.

It would also take the pressure off the Uruguayan with regards to finishing off those chances, for which he came under fire somewhat this season for not scoring enough, despite tallying 17 goals.

The second player would, no doubt about it, have to come from outside of Anfield this summer.

Stewart Downing, Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez could all fill that role as needed, but none have shown the real brilliance required for that position to move the Reds back into the top four—and at least two of those players are regarded as expendable in this coming transfer window.

The one other squad player who would be an asset to Liverpool in this role is Craig Bellamy. The Welsh forward would be a fine option to have coming infield from the left and would benefit from playing further up the pitch more often—but age and injury concerns again mean he is not a realistic, regular option.

In better news, plenty of the younger lads coming through the reserve setup (such as Raheem Sterling) would be natural born players for this role. Suso and Toni Silva might also benefit from cutting in from the right onto their left foot.

SWANSEA, WALES - MAY 13:  Andy Carroll of Liverpool in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Liverpool at the Liberty Stadium on May 13, 2012 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

And so on to the forward, the No. 9, the Andy Carroll role.

Franco di Santo did it for Wigan last season, with Conor Sammon doing his bit from the bench.

Hold the ball up...link with the oncoming attackers...put the ball in the net.

A simple job, no?

Andy Carroll finished the campaign strongly for the Reds, but he needs to show he can do it for a full season. Liverpool might well go out and buy another forward this term anyway.

Transfers, formations, managers...all have yet to be determined for Liverpool this summer.

But if it is Roberto Martinez, don't bet against him turning to his successful back-three formula again next term—and doing extremely well with it for Liverpool.


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