Joseph Kavaloski makes a strong case for the return of the 4-4-2 diamond to Liverpool.
All of a sudden, Liverpool’s attacking numbers are becoming thin. Philippe Coutinho is out most likely until 2017, Sadio Mane’s departure to AFCON will follow soon after, and Roberto Firmino and Daniel Sturridge are dealing with minor knocks.
Up to this point, the Reds had been largely immune to the injury bug. This allowed Jurgen Klopp to stick with a 4-3-3 formation in every league match with the attacking triumvirate staying the same in every match sans Burnley in the second week.
Now that Coutinho is out for an extended period with Mane leaving practically as soon as he returns, Liverpool will be without one of their three starting attackers for at least the next two months. While changes to a side that has been flying may not be a positive, these absences will also open up chances for players like Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge in a new formation.
The primary reason why the 4-3-3 has been so effective is the interchangeability of the three forwards. Roberto Firmino is the primary central “striker” but at various points in the match, it is obvious to see the Brazilian interchanging with Mane or his fellow countryman on the left.
This tactic has confused defences and taken the league by storm, but without Coutinho and Mane it could be very different. Firmino could move out to either wing in order to accommodate Divock Origi/Daniel Sturridge in the middle but neither player provides Firmino’s unique traits to the position.
Therefore, Klopp could decide to change the formation to a 4-4-2 diamond. This would put either Origi or Sturridge alongside Mane as strike partners with Firmino behind them in the number ten role. Slightly deeper behind those three, Adam Lallana, Emre Can/Georginio Wijnladum, and Jordan Henderson would then operate in their normal central midfield roles.
As all Liverpool fans know full well, Klopp loves playing Firmino as the most advanced attacker. His movement and pressing is second to none and brings a different dimension to the attack.
However, the Reds do not have an easy replacement for Coutinho on the left as Firmino is a right footed player and neither Origi nor Sturridge has been particularly effective at winger. This will likely force Klopp’s hand to rely on Origi as his side’s source of pressing and intelligent movement from the striker position.
Although the Belgian is a different player than his Brazilian teammate, he can bring many of the same qualities. Origi is well known for his runs down the channels and strong hold-up play that resulted in him earning key starts last season in the Europa League and domestically.
Origi is not much of a creative player (one of the key reasons why he has not excelled as a winger) but Firmino’s presence behind the two strikers could mask this deficiency. Paired alongside Mane, Origi and the Senegal international could form a dynamic combination of pace and pressing at the tip of the Reds’ attack.
When Coutinho returns and Mane subsequently departs, Firmino would simply move forward to replace Mane with Coutinho taking Firmino’s previous role in the number 10 spot. On the other hand, Klopp could also revert back to a 4-3-3 with Origi playing centrally and the Brazilians flanking him on either side.
A key question resulting from this hypothetical adjustment is where would this leave Daniel Sturridge. The Englishman is one of the best strikers in Europe on his day, but he has struggled for match time so far this season.
Assuming that Klopp does alter his tactics to accommodate a Coutinho/Mane-less side, Sturridge could be on track to finally earn regular minutes. That being said, he will need to prove himself against Origi as the Belgian has already taken advantage of this opportunity with a goal against Sunderland.
Sturridge is not the defensive player that Firmino and Origi are, but his instincts in front of goal and movement off the ball are top class. The Englishman has been the first man off the bench on numerous occasions this season in front of Origi, but his latest injury may be allowing the Belgian to stake his claim to a regular first team place.
Sturridge will most likely get a chance during the festive period due to the heavy fixture load and he will need to take these chances well if he does not get a starting berth before then. The left-footed striker is certainly not the perfect Klopp player with a knack for pressing and dynamic pace, but there were numerous matches last season where Sturridge was still able to excel under the German.
As of this moment, Sturridge is not in the starting picture but that can all change very quickly. Origi started the EFL Cup match against Leeds which could open the door for Sturridge to start at the weekend against Bournemouth. It’s opportunities like these that the Englishman will need to take or else his time on Merseyside may soon be over.
Regardless of the exact personnel choices, changes will need to be made following the injury to Liverpool’s talisman. Coutinho has emerged this season as one of Europe’s best playmakers and it is never easy to replace a player of his calibre in the side.
Origi appears the most likely to get the first chance to nail down a starting spot, and the traits he brings to the team could suit a switch to a 4-4-2 diamond. Whether or not Klopp makes this change is yet to be seen, but it could be a clever adjustment that helps keep Liverpool afloat through the busy festive period.