There was a certain high wire act that came to be associated with Liverpool Football Club, a team that at times played as if they were football’s equivalent of “The Greatest Show on Turf”.
Defense was an afterthought to Liverpool, as the team treated fans to a product that had team pressing of the highest degree, audacious goal attempts and numerous defensive blunders that would be laughable at a kids game much less a Premier League encounter.
But all of that is in the past… well some of it is. Their talisman, Luis Suarez, is off to Barcelona, after producing one of the great seasons English domestic football has seen. A litany of new signings have arrived, and with that changes will be made. The majority of the season tactically was the combination of pressing between parts of the midfield and forwards and accommodating SAS. Liverpool at times went with four central defenders as a backline, played three at the back with Francois the Car salesman at right back, had to deal with Glen Johnson’s continuing decline as a Premier League right back and Rodgers’s continued attempt to deploy Gerrard as some sort of CB/CDM hybrid.
Some of that will continue. The Gerrard angle will continue to be a subplot in Liverpool’s upcoming future until his career comes to an end. There are still very much problems with Liverpool’s full back rotation, especially if Glen Johnson continues to be Liverpool’s first team right back for +30 games this upcoming season. But what will return to Liverpool is a bit more calmness tactics wise. The addition of Dejan Lovren will help a Liverpool backline that quite frankly was mediocre for a club that wants to consistently compete for a Champions League spot.
More than anything, perhaps the addition of Lovren will help with Liverpool’s tendencies to sag back. Liverpool’s total shot metrics varied between different game states, with their greatest share coming when the score was tied. Liverpool would press like they were hungry Dobermen, with the 5-1 result versus Arsenal perhaps the greatest illustration of that. How much that will continue remains to be seen. Suarez was a great luxury to have in this area as he was very productive hounding the defense, averaging 1.4 tackles + interceptions per game as a forward.
Perhaps Liverpool will continue the Doberman like pressing in the manner as they did last season while also implementing a higher line, which was exhibited in their final preseason matchup vs Borussia Dortmund. Lovren and Fonte last season were a great CB tandem in Mauricio Pochettino’s offside trap and if Liverpool do change the way their CB’s are positioned on the field, Lovren would fit in seamlessly.
Something I was curious in trying was projecting how Liverpool will look when the upcoming season arrives. They’ve added Lovren, Adam Lallana, Emre Can and Rickie Lambert this offseason and though Lallana is currently rehabbing a knee injury, there’s a good possibility he starts 22+ games this season with at least 6 Champions League games for Liverpool. Without Suarez, there probably isn’t too big a need for Brendan Rodgers to instill three at the back and probably will go about something along the lines of a 4-2-3-1/4-5-1 or a 4-3-3. Before Suarez’s return from suspension, Liverpool played a pretty standard 4-2-3-1 with Strurridge as the main striker.
Here we have, well… it could really be interpreted some different ways. It could be a 4-3-3 with Gerrard sitting back. It also can on occasion function as a 4-5-1 with Sterling/Coutinho/Lallana acting as the attacking midfielders. One of things that will be a feature with these hypothetical formations is that even with the pressing, Liverpool could be faced with problems along the flanks, especially with Johnson’s penchant for going forward and joining the attack. Glen Johnson has been on the decline for some time now, which makes the loan signing of Manquillo and the rumors of Alberto Moreno being purchased from Sevilla important.
This probably really stretches the limits of what a hypothetical should be, seeing as Steven Gerrard has played a combined 6426 minutes over the last two seasons after injury riddled seasons in 2010-11 and 2011-12. But this formation is quite possibly the most athletic Liverpool could muster with Henderson and Can making up the center midfielders in either an attacking 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3. Lallana’s sporadic existence on the Starting XI will be very interesting on Coutinho because they do possess some similar traits: being able to track back and tackle, drift to the left and play as a left side attacking midfielder.
Lallana’s tackling ability could allow him to play a bit more deep as a central midfielder, a bit more forward up from Henderson and Can, who will provide the stamina in the central part of the park. Lallana’s defensive work actually holds up quite well considering his attacking nature, comparing favorably to Oscar’s work for the last two seasons:
With the inclusion of Lovren, Liverpool’s backline could be a bit more forward than last year with Sakho/Skrtel/Agger when they just seemed to invite pressure and sag back too much. Again the odds of Can and Henderson starting more than 1 EPL match together as the central midfield pairing are probably slim to none.
Liverpool will be better defensively if only because of the acquisition of Lovren combined with the unlikely odds of Liverpool repeating as the same SV% in tied state situations. The preseason finale vs Dortmund showed that Liverpool will still be able to press and press hard without Suarez, and Lovren fit in nicely (Again though, it’s preseason. It means nothing). A lot like last year, they may not be much in-between when it comes to Liverpool FC, so I better just go prepare myself for when something like this happens: