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Brendan Rodgers’ Brilliant Liverpool Headache

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With the huge turn-around of personnel at Liverpool Football Club this summer, Brendan Rodgers now has a largely different squad to manage than the one which he led to second place in the Premier League last season. Despite the loss of Luis Suarez to Barcelona, the playing staff at his disposal are of a much higher standard overall and the sheer quantity of top players at the club now present a serious headache to Rodgers and his fellow coaches. We await to see if the significant funds brought in from the Uruguayan’s sale have been spent wisely, but on paper he certainly seems to have carried this out to perfection. Possessing top notch cover all across the pitch was always going to be vital should Liverpool want to mount a challenge on all fronts this campaign but, as I examine below, picking a line-up for each match is hardly an easy task. The names and formation chosen by Rodgers from week to week will not only be dependent on fitness levels and injury, but he should also have the luxury of varying tactics to combat the opposition’s set-up.

As the transfer region has not yet reached its conclusion, the players available for selection can of course still change. On one hand, I cannot imagine that Brendan Rodgers has the ambition to bring in many more names to his squad, having made nine high profile additions already. However, the line-ups I have compiled below come from my best estimates at the players who will remain at the club come September. For example, likely departures such as Fabio Borini and Kolo Touré have not been considered.

4-3-3

Liverpool - Football tactics and formations
This formation and combination of personnel would be most effective against opposition employing a 2-man central midfield partnership or with a back three. Liverpool’s midfield trio of Gerrard, Henderson and Can would both physically swamp their opponent’s in the middle of the park if they only had 2 in that region, and have the technical ability to out-pass them too. Furthermore, attacking a back three would often present the opportunity for Sterling and Markovic to use their outstanding pace down the outside of the defence, in behind an advancing wing-back.

One of the most immediate selection issues facing Rodgers is being able to find a way to get both front-line strikers on the pitch at the same time. While neither Daniel Sturridge nor Mario Balotelli are limited forwards, confined only to the region of the 18 yard box, both do have a preference of playing primarily down the middle. As we saw last season in particular, Sturridge possesses the game awareness to rotate positions as part of a front three, capable of filling in on either flank. However, you would have to say that whichever out of the pair is fulfilling this role at a certain time will have their attacking threat somewhat nullified. Liverpool’s manager would want to avoid this if at all possible, with their prowess in forward areas having become a hallmark of Rodgers’ style at Anfield. The formations below demonstrate separate examples that accommodate both Sturridge and Balotelli down the middle and perhaps will be options that Rodgers chooses to side with more often than not.

However, the 4-3-3 formation has been a fruitful one for Rodgers and Liverpool; especially last season, and I am sure he will still be urged to employ it again over the coming months. In my opinion, the strongest and most stable back four picks itself and fitness permitting, this should feature heavily in most games. Manquillo and Lovren have already impressed me and seem to be a great deal more reliable than Johnson and Sakho respectively. As much as I admire the Frenchman’s lion-heart approach to defending, my heart does skip a beat every time he gains possession.

The class and technical prowess of Steven Gerrard dovetails perfectly with the boundless energy of Jordan Henderson and Emre Can. They both have the ability to run all day, hopefully swamping the opposition midfielders and denying space. Raheem Sterling has grown from occasional substitute to first team must-start and as such will always find a place in the side. I look forward to seeing what Lazar Markovic can offer the team and still have the faith in Daniel Sturridge to be Rodgers’ main-stay in attack if he decides to play with only one front-man.

4-1-2-1-2

Liverpool - Football tactics and formations

Brendan Rodgers began to use a 4-1-2-1-2 system much more frequently towards the latter end of the last campaign and a succession of victories with this tactic certainly served to cement his approval of future use. Last season, it allowed him to play both Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez in more central attacking areas, with either Philippe Coutinho or Raheem Sterling picking up pockets of space between the midfield and defensive line. In the hope that a natural understanding between Sturridge and new club maverick Balotelli forms quickly, Rodgers will again have this formation up his sleeve. It may well prove to be the case that he chooses to begin a match with a different set-up, only to revert to a 4-1-2-1-2 when in search of a goal. It can also be defensively solid when the wider midfield players tuck in and therefore could be an option to retain a lead.

Simply by its nature, a 4-1-2-1-2 formation is quite a narrow one generally and so the full-backs on display are vital to its effectiveness. They need to both provide the necessary width to push back the opposition whilst also be aware that 2 versus 1 situations could occur relatively frequently when defending. I believe the system works best when the two wider midfielders have tremendous energy and the desire to get up and down the pitch as they must fill in several roles; helping their full-back, reinforcing the holding midfielder and providing support to the strikers. When used correctly, intelligent and mobile players can shift across the pitch as a unit and overload certain areas at specific times, allowing for breakthroughs to be made here.

Marauding opposition wing-backs in a 3-5-2 could prove dangerous however, and I would foresee limited success for Rodgers’ side if he persists with this idea against such a team. However, the very fact that he is able to deploy two front-line strikers means that an opponent’s back-line will be kept occupied at all times, making playing out from the back quite difficult. The player at the tip of the diamond can become a crucial cog if he finds enough space and possesses the quality to cause damage with it. Lallana, Coutinho and Sterling all fall under this bracket and it is a tough choice for Rodgers as to who he would choose in this position.

4-4-2

Liverpool - Football tactics and formations

As a staunch admirer of the continental style of football, Brendan Rodgers’ teams are generally not sent out in a 4-4-2 formation, however I do feel that it could have its place at Liverpool in the coming season. It is a fact that an aging Steven Gerrard simply cannot play every game anymore, and such a typical English set-up could be employed when England’s previous captain is being rested. He no longer possesses the legs to be part of a midfield pair, however Liverpool are certainly not short of this asset in that area. Henderson and Can are capable of running all day, and Joe Allen is no slouch across the ground either.

It is unlikely that Champions League competition will be the stage to see this 4-4-2 approach, as European sides almost always set up with three in the middle of the park. Rodgers would certainly not want to give anything away in the midfield on such important occasions by sacrificing an extra man to the opposition, Liverpool would run the risk of being engulfed. Losing the midfield battle sets you well on the way to a defeat. However, some Premier League sides that The Reds will encounter this season have still stuck to 4-4-2 and so were Liverpool to match them in this regard, it would be down to their quality to shine through. Rodgers has a great deal of faith in the ability of his squad and so while it may not be used regularly, this formation is certainly an option. The freedom to start with both Sturridge and Balotelli, and to play with two genuine wide men could be just what is needed in some instances.

3-5-2

Liverpool - Football tactics and formations

At the beginning of his Anfield reign, Brendan Rodgers did experiment with a 3-5-2 formation but after a string of disappointing results, the idea fell by the wayside somewhat. It was the belief that Liverpool had the perfect personnel to pull it off, but once Jose Enrique became hampered by several long-term injuries in succession and Glen Johnson’s form fell off a cliff face, this opinion had no significant backing. Now however, it can be argued that they are in a better position than ever to implement the same style brought to Manchester United by Louis Van Gaal. The Anfield club have the perfect wing-backs in Manquillo and Moreno, a balanced trio of centre-backs with the addition of the composed Lovren, and a glut of technical midfielders to cause the opposition problems.

Changing to a system with three at the back would certainly take a great deal of adapting to, as Van Gaal is proving at Old Trafford, so realistically I don’t see Rodgers going with a 3-5-2 in the immediate future. It is a dangerous plan to place players outside of their comfort zone but I am confident that with some time put in on the training field, Rodgers has acquired the right kind of players that could slot into any system.

Squad Rotation Ability

Liverpool vs Liverpool reserves - Football tactics and formations
As can be seen above, Brendan Rodgers possesses a strength in depth previously unknown to him at Anfield. Realistically, he can field two sides who could be in contention for a top four finish and with a group of players such as this available, you would have to feel that Liverpool can challenge on all fronts. As long as their performance level is up to standard, they can do themselves justice most notably in the Premier League. With able replacements ready and willing to come in at a moment’s notice, a continual rotation policy can be used to good effect and maintain fitness throughout the season.

With all the options that are at his disposal, it is nearly impossible to predict not only who takes their place in Brendan Rodgers’ strongest starting line-up, but also what formation to expect from week to week. This unpredictability can only hinder the opponent’s chances to prepare fully and as long as Liverpool’s own players have a complete understanding of the system employed, the fluidity of movement should go on to cause other teams no end of problems. Utilising his squad to its best ability will give Liverpool’s Northen Irish man at the helm the strongest opportunity to achieve the club’s goals this season and progress in every competition available to them.


If you were in Brendan Rodgers’ shoes, what would your strongest line-up be? How many ever-presents do you foresee this season, and are there any systems that have not yet been trialled but you feel would fit Liverpool’s players perfectly? Let us know in the comments or on twitter @TBRFootball .

 

Manchester United

How will Manchester United line up with Alexis Sanchez?

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

The most highly-anticipated transfer of the January window has finally been confirmed. Alexis Sanchez is now officially a Manchester United player after joining from Arsenal in a swap deal with Henrikh Mkhitaryan. It is quite a coup for the Red Devils to have snatched the Chilean from the clutches of Manchester City, who had long been the frontrunners for his signature.

Sanchez scored 80 goals in 165 appearances for Arsenal and his arrival at Old Trafford significantly strengthens Jose Mourinho’s attacking resources. United are second in the Premier League, but lie a distant 12 points behind their Manchester rivals. So how might the Red Devils line up with Sanchez, who will wear the iconic number seven shirt?

What will have most attracted Mourinho to Sanchez is his ability to play in any number of attacking positions. Although his goalscoring ratio for both Barcelona and Arsenal is close to one in two, he would not be classed as an out-and-out striker.

Wenger did sometimes deploy the 29-year-old on his own up top, but more often than not the Gunners boss favoured him on the left of an attacking three, alongside the likes of Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud.

Mourinho is hardly short of forward options. He signed Romelu Lukaku from Everton last summer to spearhead the attack, while Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba have all shown to be more than capable of chipping in with goals.

Sanchez provides another dimension altogether, though. He is more physical than the aforementioned quartet and his tireless work-rate is exactly what Mourinho looks for.

Sanchez could rotate with Lukaku in the number nine role – or even play alongside hm in a front two – but it is more likely that he will occupy one of the three spots behind the Belgian.

When fit, British record signing Pogba is guaranteed to slot into a central role in front of a deep-lying central midfield pairing, which gives the Frenchman the freedom to express himself. That leaves one of the two wider positions, currently occupied by two of Rashford, Martial and Lingard.

Of late, Mourinho has opted for Martial and Lingard, both of whom have been in scintillating form with goals and assists aplenty. To leave out either would seem harsh, but given the high-profile nature of this signing, one will surely make way to accommodate Sanchez, whose inclusion may also help to get the best out of the unconvincing Lukaku.

If Mourinho’s vision is similar to Wenger’s, then the fall guy would appear to be Martial. However, the Portuguese may have other ideas and such is Sanchez’s versatility that the United manager knows he can select the Chile international anywhere in attack without diminishing his influence.

The increased competition for a starting berth can only benefit United and it certainly would not be a surprise to see Sanchez selected as a number nine, should Lukaku’s form continue to suffer.

With the Red Devils hoping to go deep into the latter stages of the Champions League as well as the FA Cup, the flexibility Sanchez offers will be invaluable in facilitating squad rotation. Games come thick and fast at this stage of the campaign and, consequently, player burn-out is a real possibility.

By landing Sanchez, United have issued a massive statement of intent. Despite an improved Premier League season, they will almost certainly have to watch on as City lift the title in May.

Whether the former Barcelona star is the man to shift the balance of power back towards the red half of Manchester remains to be seen. Nevertheless, he undoubtedly improves Mourinho’s squad and it will be fascinating to see how he fares in a United shirt.

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Arsenal

How Arsenal could line-up with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang?

Jake Jackman

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Photo: Reuters

Arsenal prefer not to do business in the January transfer window, but their hand has been forced this month due to the contract situations of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere.

They could all leave the club before the start of next season and Arsene Wenger will recognise the need to prepare for those departures. Sanchez is the only one to have left the club already this month, as he has joined Manchester United.

In return, the Gunners have secured the services of Henrikh Mkhitaryan. The former Borussia Dortmund player has struggled in England, but he has the talent to produce more at the Emirates Stadium.

Considering they are facing a battle to qualify for the Champions League, there could be more arrivals this month to improve their chances of making the top four.

Sky Sports reported that Arsenal are attempting to secure a deal for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Dortmund could be tempted to make a clean break from the striker

The Gunners are at risk of missing out on the Champions League for the second successive season, but their reputation remains strong across Europe. It would be a statement of intent to sign the Gabon international and an exciting move for supporters.

How could they line-up at the end of the window?

Arsene Wenger has favoured a 3-4-2-1 formation this season and it has achieved relative success. It was a major reason for their FA Cup win last season, as it provided more balance and made the side solid at the back.

However, Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang are both attacking players and will be expecting to start most matches. It could be that a switch back to 4-2-3-1 is required to fit both into the starting eleven.

One major problem that Arsenal have faced this season is their lack of quality at the back. Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi and Nacho Monreal are serviceable as a three-man defence.

However, it has been rare for all three to be fit at the same time and the squad is lacking in depth. Per Mertesacker is passed his best, while Rob Holding and Calum Chambers remain inexperienced at the highest level.

A change back to a four-man defence would be a smart move unless a quality centre-back is signed this month. A tactical switch would likely mean Monreal loses his place in the starting eleven.

This would be a shame considering his impressive season to date, but he would offer stern competition to Sead Kolasinac.

It would be a boost if they were to sign another centre-back. Sky Sports reported earlier this month that Arsenal had made a fresh enquiry for Jonny Evans, but no reports suggest that a deal is in the pipeline for this month.

If they were to make no defensive signings, their back five would pick itself when everyone was available.

Petr Cech is not the player that he once was, but he remains the best goalkeeper at the Emirates Stadium.

The full-backs would provide the width, as Hector Bellerin and Sead Kolasinac are both excellent at going forwards. Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Nacho Monreal would offer good competition on the left side.

By playing two attack-minded full-backs, Arsenal can afford to play with narrow attackers, which will get the best from those playing in the forward positions.

There has been a resurgence in the career of Jack Wilshere, but he is unlikely to make the starting eleven when everyone is fully fit.

The midfield pairing of Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka has been the most balanced of those chosen by Wenger this season.

The former has provided the drive and attacking support from deep, with three goals and six assists in the Premier League. Meanwhile, the latter sits deep and contributes in both halves of the pitch.

There is still more to come from the Swiss international and it will be next to Ramsey that he takes the next step forward.

The four attacking players would be best suited in a fluid attacking set-up as they are all intelligent players and capable of fulfilling any role. It would likely be a narrow formation with the full-backs providing width.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang would be the ones asked to start on the wing. It would be great to see the former be given a sustained run on the right flank, giving him a great opportunity to re-capture his Dortmund form.

Although Aubameyang is primary a striker, he has played on the left-wing during his career and he would be given freedom to interchange with the rest of the front-line. His pace will cause problems and he has the dynamism to excite supporters in the Premier League.

The 28-year-old has 13 goals in 15 Bundesliga appearances this season. In addition, despite Dortmund’s poor Champions League form, the forward found the back of the net on four occasions.

He is a top-tier striker and will add goals to the Arsenal attack. It will be exciting to see him link-up with Mkhitaryan again if a move does go through. Arsene Wenger will be hoping they can be as productive as they were in Germany.

Alexis Sanchez may have left, but Mesut Ozil is probably going to stay at the club until the end of the season.

The Evening Standard report that Arsenal are hopeful that the German international will extend his contract if they do sign Aubameyang alongside Mkhitaryan.

The 29-year-old will be given a central role in the team as the club try to convince him to stay and as the number ten position is his favoured role, this will likely be where he plays.

Alexandre Lacazette has had a mixed first season in the Premier League. It wasn’t easy to come into an Arsenal side that was short on confidence and Wenger will be wanting the Frenchman to kick on alongside the new arrivals.

If Aubameyang does sign, it will increase competition to start up front.

The current Gunners’ number nine has scored nine Premier League goals and contributed three assists. He is involved in a goal every 142.25 minutes, which is not bad, but he will be hoping to improve during the second half of the season.

If the club do sign Aubameyang, it will be a major statement of intent and serve as a reminder to the rest of Europe that Arsenal remain a force to be reckoned with.

A front four of Aubameyang, Lacazette, Mkhitaryan and Ozil promises to be exciting to watch and provide lots of goals.

No one player will be guaranteed a start and that is beneficial to the squad. The rest of the team needs strengthening, but this window would represent a good start to the rebuild.

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Burnley

Burnley 0-1 Manchester United: Three talking points from Turf Moor

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

Anthony Martial scored the only goal of the game as Manchester United recorded their third consecutive victory by seeing off Burnley at Turf Moor. In a game devoid of end-to-end entertainment, the Frenchman struck in the 54th minute when his right-footed shot found the net via the underside of the crossbar.

Burnley tried in vain to force a leveller but could not find a way past David de Gea, as their winless run extended to seven Premier League matches. United, meanwhile, have maintained their grip on second spot but remain 12 points drift of runaway leaders Manchester City. Here are three talking points…

United pass another away-day test

Despite rumours of unrest at Old Trafford, United are now unbeaten in eight Premier League matches. While their hopes of reeling in Manchester City may be remote, Jose Mourinho’s men are red-hot favourites to finish as runners-up. That would be a huge improvement on last season – their first under Mourinho – where United finished sixth. It was only their success in the Europa League that guaranteed them a place in the Champions League.

The Red Devils are definitely progressing and the expected arrival of Alexis Sanchez would give them another dimension. In particular, their away form will please Mourinho. This was United’s fifth victory in their past six Premier League games on their travels, a run that is helping to keep the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool at bay.

Burnley is a notoriously tricky place to visit, but United withstood the physical threat of the hosts and just about had enough to claim all three points.

Burnley are feeling the effects

When looking at the table, Burnley’s position appears to be very comfortable. In eighth place and with 34 points to their name, the Clarets are all but guaranteed to be playing Premier League football again next season. That would have been manager Sean Dyche’s priority and he can feel satisfied with the job he has done.

Nonetheless, this is a difficult period for Burnley, who have not tasted victory since they beat Stoke City on December 12. Scoring goals has been their biggest problem, having drawn a blank in four of their seven-game winless  run. The Clarets are not renowned as being free-scoring – they have found the net only 19 times this season – and rely on a solid defensive foundation.

Perhaps the exertions of their promising start have taken their toll on a settled side. The challenge for Dyche, who had been linked with the Everton job during the height of Burnley’s success, is to ensure his players do not fall into the trap of thinking they have nothing to play for.

Martial is making rapid progress

The Frenchman began the campaign out of favour at United, but he has regained his place in the side thanks to a series of consistent performances. His output has been productive, too. His goal against Burnley was his third in a row, taking him to 11 for the season. Allied to his seven assists, Martial is beginning to fulfil his immense potential.

He cut a frustrated figure at being kept out of the starting XI by Marcus Rashford – there was even speculation he might be on his way out of Old Trafford. But Martial said all the right things publicly and is no longer in the ‘supersub’ category. Competition for places will only intensify if and when Sanchez’s switch from Arsenal is completed.

But the former Monaco starlet should not fear the Chilean’s arrival, but relish it. He has proved he can be a trustworthy player for United. Like Luke Shaw, he is another to have benefited from some stern words from Mourinho, who will soon have an embarrassment of attacking riches to call upon.

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