Looking at our Defense, Attack, and Midfield The Defense After 6 games in the league, I think it becomes evident that we have a top class goalkeeper. It becomes evident that our CB options are so great that it becomes a headache which 2 should start - so much, that during Johnsonâ€™s injury we have seen Rodgers switch to 3 at the back, instead of using one of his RB alternatives (even when Kelly was fit). We have had a great Toure, who has been brought as an experienced backup but has taken the opportunity to prove heâ€™ll be much more than that; We have had a very solid Daniel Agger, who became the new vice captain and rightly so (canâ€™t think of a fan that rejected the idea, even if heâ€™d chosen another player for vc), under whom we had our first 3 games without conceding, with him alongside Toure. Weâ€™ve had an immense Skrtel, who took the opportunity in a single half of a game, where Toure got injured (and no transfers were ready to play, and Coates injured too), to prove himself to Rodgers after last seasonâ€™s early botches that earned him the mistrust of both Rodgers and a lot of fans. He took that chance and made a statement from it, and he continued building on it in every game since. He showed that the man that formed one of the best (or arguably the best) centerback duo in the premiership 3 seasons ago, was back! And weâ€™ve had our new super signing, Mamadou Sakho, who has been doing a very silent but excellent job, with stats that speak for themselves, and a very fast learning in becoming reliable at the back in the EPL. So good are these 4 CB options, that the debate on which two to choose can be endless, and neither argument can be uncounterable. It depends on approach, which partnership to choose. Defensive partnership options Agger-Toure was the partnership of our first 3 games, that has not conceded. Alone that feat would normally make them the unquestionable option. Agger-Skrtel was the partnership of old, that havenâ€™t played for a year together, but that has both players back to top form (especially the one that was missing from the partnership). Try debating against this option. Very hard. Toure-Skrtel have been our two most heroic/impressive in terms of feats (saving from goals, beating opponents etc.) so far, so one would argue of having these two as our CB partnership, and who could find fault in such an option. On the other hand, we have had Sakho, who has been adapting very quickly, and who has had excellent stats and has been very solid, showing more than hints about why we bought him. On the question who to pair him with, the games so far suggest that Skrtel is not the best option, as Sakho is young and needs a leader beside him to bring out his best and guide him, and Skrtel is not that leader. Playing him alongside Agger has been questioned, because of the two left-foot argument, so depending on where you stand on that argument youâ€™d hesitate to pair him with Agger and would go for a Toure-Sakho french speaking partnership (which would leave out our Vice-Captain), or youâ€™d go ahead and pick it as a partnership. Obviously, time will tell. At one point or another, whether by Rodgers choice or by chance, these two will feature together and that argument will either prove to have a basis or will be dispelled. For sure, for now, before any such notion is proved, both partnerships are options: Toure-Sakho, Agger-Sakho. So there you go: Agger-Toure, Agger-Skrtel, Toure-Skrtel, Toure-Sakho, Agger-Sakho. 5 partnership options, whichever is your pick, itâ€™s not undoubtedly better than any of the other 4. Throughout the season, by chances and choices, it will probably get clear which is the best one. The option of 3 at the back will not be dismissed here in this thread, and will be explored in the formations section later. The Attack Attack may not have the quality depth of our defence, but in full strength itâ€™s something most defenses will be dreading: The attacking triplet of Coutinho, Suarez, Sturridge, with potentially Moses joining from a flank, is a sight to behold, and an attacking force with lots of goals in them (obviously Coutinho is included even though he is the AM, because he is a vital part of the attack.. obviously I will not be talking about two Coutinhos when I mention him again in midfield ). With Suarez leading the scorersâ€™ table last season up to his ban, and Sturridge leading the current table and having a great goal-per-game ratio since last January when he joined, and combinations of the 3 having seen to link up perfectly at times, when all 3 are joined itâ€™s something to be excited about. The back-ups are not very encouraging, as its either players who are too young to be expected/undeveloped/untested(at least at the position)/unadapted to have the same impact (Alberto for Coutinho - even though they are only a year of difference, Coutinho is clearly the exception to the norm; Sterling for Moses; Aspas for Sturridge). So one injury/suspension/etc. of one of these really makes the attack suffer to one degree or another (like now with Coutinho). Expecting this to be adressed in January, as it clearly was an aim in the summer but the team opted to not buy someone just to buy someone: since the ones they went for did not happen, they will try to get new targets and hopefully these will happen this time - a lot of teams were contesting in these areas in the summer, who have now bought and thus the competition for such players will be much less (only united seems to be after an attacking midfielder for example). Quite a few of our most important signings of the past few years have happened in a January transfer window or another (Suarez, Sturridge, Coutinho), so I donâ€™t think the options are necessarily less in that window. If Coutinho comes back in October, and we manage to keep these 3 (4 with Moses) fit till January at least, and bring 2 good options (1 AM and 1 striker) in January, I think weâ€™re there. One would argue we need more wingers, but it depends on the formation and where you put each player, and my feel is that a cover AM and cover Striker is the priority at the moment, as youâ€™ll see from the formations analysed below. So defense, great (and with more depth than anyone could wish for), attack (for starting XI, when full strength) great, it leaves taking a look at our midfield. The Midfield The root of the problem I will start by saying that with Coutinho playing the attacking midfield and with Gerrard being our deep-lying playmaker (and say what you like about our captain and his performances, but passes like the one he fed Sturridge with for the second goal vs Sunderland are world class and Rodgers has the task of finding a way - or the right partner - to bring this best out of Gerrard), and the need for a holding midfielder in a formation (whether that will end up being 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 or even 3-4-1-2 or any other we might play - you name it), it seems that our problematic midfield finds root in its deeper end than its attacking end (I doubt thereâ€™s anyone that would take Coutinho out of the equation). So you either go and take our captain out of the equation, or his partner - or, in extreme cases of opinion, both. Lucas or Gerrard, or both, or partnership? This again would be an endless debate, which will have no proof until all options discussed are tested, and one or two prevail, so Iâ€™ll start with hoping for one that may be imminent: Lucas is suspended for the next game vs Crystal Palace, courtesy of 5 yellow cards, and Allen (if he would ever be an option for HM) is not fully match-fit yet. To me, this seems like a chance for Toure to show to anyone doubting it that he can do a great job in HM, and I think (and hope) that Rodgers will do it - he has said so in the past, and I think itâ€™s one of the 3 reasons that he hasnâ€™t brought a HM in the summer, much to everyoneâ€™s surprise; the 3 reasons being: a) no top class target was identified, b ) Toure was seen as a backup to that slot as well (at least for the time being, and having played there before and ticking the boxes for playing there), and c) other areas were deemed more of a priority and had the targets biddable. Not only does Toure get the opportunity to show to anyone doubting it (but most importantly to confirm to Rodgers that he can do a great job there), but my hope and belief is that given the opportunity, he will also show that playing alongside Gerrard, it will show a very different game for the captain as well. Please donâ€™t misunderstand me for a second there, I rate Lucas a lot and I think he is a great player, but at the time he is not at his best (at least not for very large parts of a game), and obviously there is a problem in Liverpool bossing the midfield that has to either find root in Gerrard, or Lucas, or the partnership. Because of that, and because I think there is no one that can do Gerrardâ€™s job of deep-lying playmaker at the moment (even though some would argue Alberto can, he could playmake perhaps up to a degree, and control the ball up to a degree, but itâ€™s doubtfull whether he could contribute defensively with tackles etc.), weâ€™d have to either change the midfield roles and put a player that carries the ball to the attack (a box-to-box midfielder instead of a deep-lying playmaker), such as Henderson - who would then replace Gerrard, or weâ€™d have to re-consider the partnership of the two deeper midfielders, which, in absence of another proven and quality deep-lying playmaker in the squad, would see Lucas benched for Toure. This would make Lucas fight harder to earn his place in the startng XI, and potentially bring him back to his best soon. Itâ€™s competition, and itâ€™s a good thing (look what it did for Henderson and Skrtel, and hopefully Enrique will benefit from the same). Rodgers could come of course and simply field Henderson alongside Gerrard, with no genuine HM, with the thinking that we are facing Crystal Palace, in which case my whole theory of Toureâ€™s chance is still dreamland. A recipe to boss midfield? The perspective outlined above, results in a midfield 3 of Toure-Gerrard-Coutinho. If this proves to affect Gerrardâ€™s game for the best as I suspect it will, then itâ€™s to keep as mainstay. If itâ€™s not, but still proving to show a great Toure at HM, then keeping the competition between Toure and Lucas (perhaps depending on game, or split within a game), and trying to figure out what options (if any) there would be in replacing Gerrard (or again, providing competition for him with subs, with the intention of upping his game as a result), would be the next step - Henderson, in the logic highlighted above, or a returning Allen, might be options. But my suspicion is that Toure for Lucas will not only show that Toure can do a great job in HM, but will up Gerrardâ€™s game as well. I think itâ€™s the recipe to boss midfield, and I think there are a lot of chances to see that happening in the next game, where Lucas is suspended and there seems to be no better option than playing Toure there. If the above prove to sort out our midfield and we have all three areas of the field being excellent by late October, and not suffer in the meanwhile with results, I think weâ€™ll have a month to make this Starting Eleven peak and click, just in time for the huge series of top games around Christmas. And if all this happens, I think weâ€™ll be able to have a good/great season. Formations Having seen the details in all 3 areas of the field, Iâ€™d like to take a look at possible formations. There are a few factors that show that there is more than 1 option, and I will try to see which factors lead to which formation. Without looking for a premature Christmas and without meaning to summon the spirits of Dickens, Iâ€™ll start by taking a look at the formation of the recent past, then move on to the present, and then, based on the conclusions and the thoughts I expressed above, will go into the possibilities for the very near future. The recent past Iâ€™ll start from the recent past, which dates back to Suarezâ€™s ban a few games from the end of last season, where we had settled into a 4-2-3-1 for quite some time until Johnsonâ€™s injury. This formation finds root in two factors, the way I see it. The first being Rodgers realizing that Coutinho is far more effective as a 10, behind the striker(s), and that much of his qualities are wasted in the LW (minimizing his passing angles, for example). On top of that, having only Sturridge as a serial scorer up front. The oblique line and â€œout of position Hendersonâ€ With Moses being brought to carry the weight of the left flank of the attack, and Johnson adopting the weight on the right flank, we were playing what many people seem to have failed to see, a quasi oblique line/weighted flank tactic - a stretegic term whose use has found place in a 4-4-2 variant in the past, the tucked wing variant that the late 80s-early 90s Dalglish sides would use in much effect. In that concept, the seemingly out of position winger (in our 4-2-3-1 case of late, Henderson on the RW) is meant to leave the flanking duties to the RB (in this case Johnson), and himself to cut inside and flood the attacking midfield, to provide outnumbering and bodies in the box. This player must have the engine and the athletism to do this. This is why Dalglish was using Henderson on the RW a few years ago, but it hasnâ€™t worked, not because itâ€™s wrong as a concept, not because Henderson does not tick the boxes for such a role, but because Henderson was too young and raw and unused of that role back then, and because of other attacking problems back then (this deployment is also the reason why a lot of fans had back then expressed the view that in lack of a genuine RW, Johnson should be positioned there, but they were failing to see that Johnson was carrying the weight of the attack in the right flank anyway, and intentionally from the RB position). Dalglish was trying to groom Henderson into that tucked wing role, and we could see early this season that it was worth it. Fans on this side were praising Henderson in the first few games of this season - he got a lot of votes as MOTM in a few occasions as well. These past few games, Hendersonâ€™s game has been criticised, and people thought heâ€™s been below his best, but to me itâ€™s evident that itâ€™s been ignored that itâ€™s since Johnsonâ€™s injury that Hendersonâ€™s game has dropped, exactly because of the concept above and the missing flanker on the right. Henderson suddenly had to often beat his player on the right, which he canâ€™t (and shouldnâ€™t be expected to), and since our right flank was posing no threat, and since Henderson was deployed there, people assumed that itâ€™s his fault, and described it as being out-of-position and that it doesnâ€™t work. But with Johnson at RB it did and it will work. So breaking down our 4-2-3-1, in effect, had 4 at the back (Carragher and Agger at CB last season, Toure and Agger this season, with Enrique and Johnson in either flank), of which the right end (Johnson) would burst forward and have a more attacking role. The 2 holding midfielders (Lucas and Gerrard) meant that the back line would get the needed cover to allow Johnson to roam forward, although Johnson was expected to run back and defend too (this has caused a lot of people to doubt Johnsonâ€™s defending qualities, but itâ€™s more a matter of his role than of his qualities - any doubt over his defensive qualities must have been dispelled in the Utd game, hopefully). The 3 central midfielders (Sterling/Ibe last season, and Moses this season on the LW, Coutinho in the AM, and Henderson on the RW) would see the RW Henderson shift inwards without the ball, to provide the link between HM and AM and to provide outnumbering and more bodies in the box during attack, while Coutinho would move forwards when with the ball, beat a couple of opponents and find that through ball or thread a needle pass to Sturridge for the goal; at the same time, Sterling on the LW and Moses this season, had a similar task, albeit with different tools - Sterling using his speed and dribbling, Moses using his control of the ball and strenght, both to beat their opponents on the left and attack from there. And the man on the top, Sturridge, was meant to receive and convert, which he did in a great degree, and to also make intelligent moves to create space for others to score, as we have so often seen. 4-2-3-1 losing screws Since Johnsonâ€™s injury, such an approach became flawed, because the right side would become ineffective in attack, and a right winger would be required to provide that threat. That was the Swansea game, and although we scored 2 goals despite that flaw (1 because of a defense backpass caused by our midfielders closing the passing opportunities, which Sturridge took advantage of, and 1 from a counter attack from the left with Moses, from where we did cause a threat). Coutinhoâ€™s injury meant that the middle was rendered ineffective as well, and the left alone would needed to be countered. Aspas was brought as a desparate attempt to fill in in AM, but would have probably be more sensible to do so from the equally ineffective right flank. The realization that our 4-2-3-1 did not have the tools to work in the same way, found peak in the Southampton game, where neither the right flank (Henderson without a wing back behind him) or the middle (Aspas) could feed the striker, and the predictable and obvious left (Moses) that could, was easily countered as the opposition could focus on that - unable to score, an easily avoidable goal costed us the first loss in the league. The present This gave room to Rodgers for experimentation, and the overstock in quality of CB gave the obvious opportunity to go with 3 CBs until Johnson returns. This meant that the wing-backs would be players able to roam forward, but drop back to help as well. Rodgers chose Henderson and Enrique for those roles. The first game to test the new formation was vs Manchester in the League Cup, featuring the return of Suarez. The AM was filled by Moses and Suarez, with Sturridge in front of them. The 3-4-2-1 of Toure-Skrtel-Sakho/Lucas-Gerrard-Henderson-Enrique/Moses-Suarez/Sturridge showed promise, with a performance that was mostly considered to be â€œimprovedâ€, but there was no goal to prove it successful in attack. Against Sunderland, the 3-4-2-1 became 3-4-1-2, with Suarez joining Sturridge in attack, and Moses again behind the striker(s). While the weaknesses were the same in my opinion, the first two goals came from a corner and from a magical pass by Gerrard, that found an open Sturridge on the right that gave a ready goal to Suarez. The 3rd goal came from Sturridge bursting through the left this time, to assist Suarez again. There was no actual threat when we were attacking, as either flank and the middle where not having the tools to provide the attack. It was through taking advantage of mistakes (1st goal), counter attacking (2nd goal), and excellent link up of our two top class strikers that we managed to score, despite the formation not providing threat from all sides. This is the formation that we will probably see for the most of October, until Coutinho and Johnson return, unless it stops resulting in enough points, in which case Rodgers will have to experiment some more, temporarily. Hopefully it will prove to be enough, and hopefully Gerrard will step up to continue feeding the strikers until Coutinho returns, like he did for the 2 goals yesterday. Having seen the formation of the recent past, as well as our current formation, and considering the points discussed so far, it remains to figure out: How will the team deploy once Coutinho and Johnson return? The near future The elements that will remain, are that we have two strikers who link up perfectly and it starts seeming that Suarez might be a waste on the right. Especially if Johnson can successfully provide a threat from the right once again, it gives Rodgers a two striker - option. View attachment 263 Johnson could also be used as a wing back in a 3-4-1-2 formation, if Rodgers decides that 3 at the back is a good idea. This would see Johnson replace Henderson. I was pleased with Moses tracking back and how he is able to defend as well, and I think Rodgers might be tempted to put him as a wing back if he opts to go with a 3-4-1-2, as heâ€™ll have Johnson on the right and Moses on the left, who can provide a threat from either flank while being able to defend as well. With Coutinhoâ€™s return, there wonâ€™t be any room for Moses in a 3-4-1-2 formation unless he is used as a left wing back. I think Moses showed enough for Rodgers to prefer him over Enrique for that role, or at least to consider such a sub when we need to score at the final half hour of the game. The 4-2-3-1 would really not function much different than the 4-3-3 that can be seen below. Johnson would still adopt the RW for Suarez to shift inside and pair with Sturridge in effect, and Moses would still be the flanking threat on the left, but there is no midfield/winger role whatsoever for Suarez to suggest that itâ€™s a midfield of 5 broken into a 2-3, and a lone striker in Sturridge. There are 3 forwards in Sturridge, Suarez and Moses, and hence itâ€™s a 4-3-3, with Coutinho in AM right behind Sturridge. In effect, the areas of threat would function the same anyway. I think that the return of Suarez will see the end of our 4-2-3-1 days, for the reasons explained above, and that we will either see a 4-3-3 or 3-4-1-2, or both - depending on the game, or switching from one to another during a game: In the CB duo, pick your pair, it makes no real difference - I have picked mine without rejecting that we may end up with a different one. I think any combination has a possibility to become the mainstay. I remind that for HM, I suggest that Toure will be probably given a chance in the Crystal Palace game, and there he can show not only whether he can do a great job, but also whether the partnership affects Gerrardâ€™s game. Should this be proved, he may replace Lucas until Lucas can challenge him back, or at the very least can provide challenge for Lucas and also replace him when fatigue kicks in around the 60th minute (or start and be replaced, depending on opposition). Other options that seem less likely (because they include changes in roles that Rodgers has not hinted in any way that he is willing to try) are some 4-4-2 variants. The diamond 4-4-2, for example. That would see a single HM (whether Lucas or Toure) on the bottom end of the diamond midfield, a right central midfielder and a left central midfielder (those would be most probably Gerrard on the right and Moses on the left), and an AM which would be Coutinho, off the two strikers. Here, the right flank would be adopted from deployment by Johnson, and the left by Enrique (or by Moses shifting outside when needed and the two overlapping). This formation sees a change of role for Gerrard, slightly further up the pitch - a move that wasnâ€™t attempted by Rodgers even when we were that short in midfield that it seemed the only option for a more creative/attacking midfielder (Southampton). The alternative would be to use Henderson there replacing Gerrard, which I donâ€™t see happening. Another variant, the tucked wing of 4-4-2, would see a midfield of Lucas as HM, Moses as left wing, Henderson as the right tucked wing (allowing for Johnson to take over the flanking duties) and Coutinho in the hole. This would be a sensible formation on its own, but again, it yields Gerrard who has no obvious place in such a formation without changing a role - which like already observed, Rodgers hasnâ€™t attempted when the opportunity was calling for it, let alone when thereâ€™s no holes to fill by doing so. So there you have it. I tried to include my own thoughts within the context of my observations, and with as less bias as I could muster. Hope it worked, but most importantly, hope it becomes a place where your thoughts can contribute to a great topic. Remember, difference of opinion is a good thing.