Following Liverpool’s 3-1 loss to Manchester United at Old Trafford on Saturday, Sky Sports and Liverpool legends Jamie Carragher and Graeme Souness had strong words for Brendan Rodgers.
The pair criticised the Reds boss for being "obsessed with a 4-3-3 formation” and that the Northern Irishman got his tactics wrong in Greater Manchester. Like both Carragher and Souness, hacks across the country and fans have agreed. The tactics Rodgers used have been described as square pegs in round holes.
Philippe Coutinho missed the trip to Manchester United due to a red card he picked up against West Ham United. The Brazilian was sorely missed and, in essence, Liverpool looked clueless on the attack in his absence. The Reds have overly relied on Coutinho over the past 12 months to operate as the nucleus of the team going forward and pull the strings.
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Emre Can replaced Coutinho as the creative midfielder and, unfortunately, the Germany international did not take to the task. That is no fault of Can, however. After all, he is just 21 and is much better when playing a more restricted role in the centre of the park, bullying the opposition off the park. Liverpool suffered the repercussions of not having a proper playmaker in the team, and the lack of creativity was alarming.
To spend £32.5 million on Christian Benteke, you have to play to his strengths, and that is playing a strike partner alongside him. The Belgium international had one chance with six minutes remaining and took it with a sublime finish to make the game 2-1. One chance, one goal – there’s not much more you can ask from a forward.
The long ball
Benteke certainly knows where the goal is – he netted 42 times from 89 appearances for Aston Villa – but it is an absolute necessity that Rodgers revolves his tactics around the 24-year-old’s attributes.
There were times when the ball was hoofed towards the head or chest of Benteke. The long ball is not exactly what fans want to see but, in times of panic, it becomes acceptable. If Benteke did win the ball – whether the had it at his feet or simply won the header – there was nobody in support.
When the team-sheet was announced, there was a sense of optimism in the Liverpool camp. United striker Wayne Rooney missed the game, and it looked as if Rodgers was going to be positive and start 4-4-2 with Danny Ings partnering Christian Benteke up front.
This was not the case, however, and Ings was played wide left in a 4-3-3 formation. The ex-Burnley striker was wasted on the flank and could not fully influence the game as he wished. Benteke was left isolated up front on his own and had nobody around him to lay the ball of to and get on his bike towards goal.
The flair players
Liverpool were without Coutinho, and they had a perfect replacement in Roberto Firmino. Firmino’s performance was far from inspiring against United – he looked like a lost child at times – but he too was played out wide. The 23-year-old has played the role previously but is more effective through the middle where he can dictate the play going forward.
If Rodgers insists on playing 4-3-3 and have Benteke lead the line on his own, then proper wingers need to start. Playing out wide is not as simple as made out. To beat a full-back it takes a mixture of pace, subtle movements and the correct position.
Jordon Ibe started on the bench against United, and he would have been an ideal candidate to play wide on the right. Ibe didn’t have a superb start to the season but let’s not forget that he is still only 19 and learning his trade.
If he had have played wide on the right it meant Liverpool could get round the back of United and send crosses over to Benteke who, with the correct positioning, could have exposed the height difference with Daley Blind.
Ings looks a worthy prospect at Anfield if he is played centre forward but will be wasted if he is stuck out on the left wing. Divock Origi is too a striker but has experience for Lille playing out wide. Origi’s pace and rapport with Benteke they’ve formed playing for Belgium was the better option to thwart the Red Devils’ back four.