Will Rodgers find success in a refined 3-4-2-1 formation?

Let’s face it. Brendan Rodgers isn’t going to be sacked anytime soon, hopefully he’ll only be given up till Christmas, and he will likely turn to last season’s relatively successful formula of 3-4-2-1 in his bid to bring upon an upturn in fortunes.

It is a wonder how Rodgers did not spend on players more suited to his favoured 4-3-3 formation. The manager added inside forward Roberto Firmino when he already had a narrow attacking midfielder in Adam Lallana. Worse still, Rodgers sent out his only other wide man, besides Jordon Ibe, in Lazar Markovic to Turkish side Fenerbache.

One can also wonder how Rodgers planned to deploy a 4-3-3 without a single natural wide man, as recent trends have shown the need for a minimum of one winger. Two inverted wingers or attacking midfielders constantly cutting in will only narrow the pitch such that it becomes too congested to work anything through a packed opposition defence sitting deep. Hence Rodgers’ current reliance on this 3-4-2-1 and especially on full-backs Alberto Moreno and Nathaniel Clyne to provide the necessary width from wing-back.

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With that in mind, here’s how Rodgers can fine-tune his ‘revolutionary’ formation so as to reduce this line-up’s supposed weaknesses and further play to its strengths.

Choosing The Right Personnel

Only around three positions are really up for grabs in this formation, should Rodgers decide to stick to the same personnel: left full-back, one of the two attacking midfield positions, and up top. However, as seen by last season’s defeat to Manchester United at Anfield whereby Marouane Fellaini bullied Emre Can out of the game, Rodgers needs to be more sensitive to the clubs realistically above Liverpool at the moment, and use specific players accordingly.

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could turn out to be a very solid trio

In the big games against top four rivals, Rodgers should consider using either Joe Gomez or Dejan Lovren as a more defensive option instead of midfielder Can at right centre back. With the emergence of Gomez, it would be foolish for Rodgers not to consider him as the third member of a defensive trio consisting of Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho. Gomez’s more defensive-minded approach will give the right wing-back more ease of mind to support the attack and provide the necessary width.

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ibe needs to regain his form at right wing-back

Conversely, in the games against supposedly ‘lesser’ teams at home, Rodgers could have winger Jordon Ibe deployed at right wing-back instead of Clyne. Ibe could push well forward and act almost like a pure right winger, providing greater attacking impetus for the Reds. Ibe at right wing-back and Gomez at right centre back could provide the right balance of attack and defence for the Reds’ right side.

Strengthening Central Midfield

Last season saw this formula crumble against United at Anfield and at The Emirates, where Arsenal blew Liverpool away scoring three goals in a single half. This was mostly due to the lack of steel in midfield. Against United, skipper Jordan Henderson lacked enough support from Joe Allen; at Arsenal, with Henderson shifted to right wing-back, Lucas and Allen proved no match for the Gunners’ fluid midfield.

The arrival of James Milner can help ease this problem as he undoubtedly provides more strength and experience compared to Allen and Can respectively, while also more mobility than Lucas. Rodgers needs to ensure Milner and Henderson can dovetail well in this formation, as the duo’s performances will be key to the potential success of those further forward.

Rodgers’ preference to deploy Can in defence has both its pros and cons. The major con is how Can isn’t a pure centre back, however what could work in Can’s favour is his versatility and ability to bring the ball out of defence. Where possible, Can should be deployed in the middle of the three, between Skrtel and Sakho.

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can to play the beckenbauer role?

This way, Can will be able to push forward into a deep-lying midfield position whenever the team’s on the front foot. However, this can only be done if Rodgers manages to inculcate an understanding and flexibility between Can and Skrtel, as both will be required to switch between right centre back and centre back positions with ease and fluidity.

Increasing Tactical Nous

As mentioned in a previous article, whatever formation Liverpool plays, Brazilian Philippe Coutinho needs to have the team built around him. Though many thought Steven Gerrard’s departure meant a departure from Liverpool as a one-man team, the reality is that Coutinho has taken up this mantle and is now the Reds’ new go-to man.

Basically, as ridiculous as it may sound, Coutinho is the Lionel Messi of Rodgers’ Liverpool. The Brazilian’s finishing may still be very wayward and he may not necessary have the consistency anywhere near to Messi, but Coutinho can develop into a fine player with the right personnel around him. Rodgers should ensure Coutinho does little defending, only closing down opponents in the opposition half, and be free to do whatever he wishes, even if it means staying forward during defensive set-pieces.

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fluidity & movement among the front three is key

Next, this 3-4-2-1 must be able to morph between a 1-2 two strikers or a 2-1 single striker variation. With better quality forwards at his disposal, Rodgers need not place all his reliance on his attacking midfielders, and can now throw on an additional forward, in the likely form of Danny Ings, to try to add to Liverpool’s recent dismal goal tally. Coutinho, of course, remains central in either variation.

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when push comes to shove, turn to this

Lastly, in appropriate or even desperate situations, Rodgers must be willing to sacrifice his wing-backs and go for the jugular, sending on the likes of Ibe, Lallana or Firmino as wide men in an ultra-offensive 3-2-4-1 formation. Perhaps to add a little bit of defensive balance, Lucas would then come on as well to replace either box-to-box midfielder and simply sit as part of the two men defensive midfield shield in front of a defence slightly short on numbers.


Can Rodgers save his job and find success with a refined 3-4-2-1 formation? Tell us in the comments section below or tweet us @FootieFollowing!

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