Jack Hallows argues that the midfield diamond could be a good option against Middlesbrough but also that Reds fans shouldn’t get too used to seeing it.
There’s been a lot of talk over the futures of plenty of Liverpool players recently but how about formations?
The 4-4-2 diamond returned in full force on Sunday as the Reds dismantled West Ham and in my opinion, it should be fielded once again this weekend when Middlesbrough visit Anfield. However, does it have a future as a sustainable tactic or should Klopp continue to reserve it for special occasions?
Goals and movement galore
The best part about fielding a diamond formation is that you don’t necessarily need width for it to work. Klopp has evidently recognised, just as many of us have, that without Mané the Reds simply don’t possess any threat down the wide areas of the pitch. James Milner and Nathaniel Clyne are tasked with providing all the width and with neither being in top form of late their presence has been more of a hindrance than a help.
In a diamond, your sitting midfield acts almost as a sweeper, dropping back in between the centre backs to allow the wing backs license to roam forward when needed. The two ‘8s’ then look to occupy half spaces between the midfield and attack while the 10 pushes into the box through the space afforded by both strikers starting in slightly wider positions.
There is also the added bonus of being able to overload the opposition’s defensive third with as many as seven bodies capable of getting into dangerous areas around the box at one time. This hems in the opposition and as we saw in the short period post half time where the Reds created five chances in the space of 90 seconds that this results in panic and desperation from defenders who don’t possess the composure of an Eric Bailly or a Laurent Koscielny.
This overload was highly effective against West Ham’s back three as it saw Sturridge and Origi constantly occupying one of the London clubs centre-halves which freed up space for the likes of Wijnaldum, Coutinho and Lallana to swarm a struggling – and most importantly slow – James Collins. You just have to look at the first goal to see exactly what I mean.
Sturridge starts on left back Cresswell with Origi occupying Fonte. Lallana then drops in deeper to pull Collins out of the defensive line. The space afforded in behind then allows Coutinho to roll the ball through into the acres of space vacated between Reid and Cresswell.
Sturridge’s anticipation and ability to get goal side of Reid sees him get there miles ahead of any West Ham defender and as soon as he was round the keeper there was never any doubt of a goal.
The second goal came from some stellar individual work from Coutinho granted but the presence of Lallana, Sturridge and Origi ahead of him saw all three centre-backs forced to sit off the Brazilian in case he opted for a slipped pass in behind.
The trio’s ability to occupy a defender and take them out of the game was key in allowing Coutinho space to drive forward into attacking areas, carrying attacks from the start rather than having to drop deep to get involved.
Sometimes the sheer presence of attacking bodies is more than enough to put defenders off their game and create panic across backlines without a truly quality defender amongst their ranks. Against Middlesbrough, this could be a huge asset, especially when they’ve conceded 11 goals in their last five games with their only clean sheet against fellow relegation fodder Sunderland.
Getting Sturridge on the pitch against opposition of this calibre is also huge. The Englishman thrives far more in a striking duo than he does as a lone striker and despite Origi’s patchy form of late, Sturridge himself looked far more assured playing up top with a partner.
Reserved for special occasions
While the Reds have a good record of scoring when playing in this formation and it can be a super option against sides who look to sit deep and frustrate teams, it has to be reserved solely for those occasions next season. There’s a reason it’s not a common formation amongst managers in the Premier League – or any of the top leagues for that matter – with only Claude Puel of Southampton looking to use it as a staple at any stage this season before even he reverted to a 4-2-3-1.
There is a lot to like about the formation in an attacking sense but it leaves sides wide open at the back – especially down the flanks. The lack of help for the fullbacks means they have to be incredibly disciplined in sticking to their position and recovering when the ball is lost.
We saw on the rare occasion that West Ham broke forward on Sunday that they had little joy in breaching the trio of Can, Matip and Lovren but managed to create far more space in the wider areas of the pitch with Clyne, in particular, struggling to deal with Cresswell’s overlapping runs. There is also the necessity of your holding midfielder being a physical presence with Can far more suited to the system than someone like Henderson or Lucas.
A perfect example of both the pros and cons of the formation was actually shown to us in one of the Reds’ away games last season. Origi and Sturridge started up top at Southampton in the 4-4-2 diamond with Philippe Coutinho in the 10 and the Reds went into halftime cruising at 2-0 up.
Koeman opted to bring on a wide threat in Sadio Mané and a physical presence in Victor Wanyama and it all went downhill from there. Despite Simon Mignolet saving a penalty, the game still ended 3-2 in Southampton’s favour as they ruthlessly exposed the Allen/Wanyama mismatch and released Mané in behind time and time again.
Against sides who possess pace up top and a strong midfield, the formation simply cannot be an option due to the space it affords wide players. At the best of times, there can be very little in the way of cover for the Reds centre-back pairing and this formation would only serve to exacerbate that against quality opposition.
Personally, next season I’d like to see the Reds return to a 4-2-3-1. I know that Klopp’s 4-3-3 set up is designed to nullify that exact formation but very few teams in the league play it on a regular basis at the moment.
Chelsea has their 3-4-2-1, both Manchester teams generally play a 4-1-4-1 variant and Spurs alternate between a 3-4-2-1 and a 4-3-2-1. The thought of an attacking trio made up of Coutinho – Firmino – Mané behind a 20 goal a season striker? Yes, please.