The Luis Suárez and Daniel Sturridge partnership, despite having only played a few games together since the latter’s move to Anfield in January 2013, has really taken off – and given the promising signs of this it is understandable that Liverpool would do everything they can to get the frightening pair into their best positions.
When Suárez’s 10 game suspension for biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanović ended, Brendan Rodgers understandably brought him straight back into the team with Sturridge – though this time in a relatively new 3-5-2 (or 5-2-1-2, depending on how you look at it) system for his side. Whether this change is because of the Uruguayan’s return, a lack of top class wingers or no quality right-back in the absence of Glen Johnson is debatable, but what is definitely clear is that Liverpool’s two star attackers appear to thrive when alongside each other. So is this new system a viable possibility in the long term?
If Brendan Rodgers persists with the idea that he would like Suárez and Sturridge up front together rather than one (usually the former) out wide, then this 3-5-2 with wing-backs is the most suited to Liverpool’s style. The problem with playing two up front in a system with a conventional back four is this would leave Liverpool a man short in the middle. Given how Brendan Rodgers’ philosophy of football is focused around retaining possession, having just four players in the midfield could often lead to them becoming outnumbered and thus having less of the ball.
Playing a 3-5-2 formation would get around this numbers in the middle problem and effectively allow 5 players to be deployed there – including José Enrique and Glen Johnson (when fit) from the wing-back positions, who, as an attacking pair, can provide a huge amount of threat and width for the team. Having two energetic wing-backs also gets around the issue of having no real classy wide players in attack, with the pair stretching the pitch instead as mentioned – allowing Liverpool’s most creative players to play in their preferred central roles.
This is also where their little midfield genius, Philippe Coutinho, comes into the mix. The Brazilian provides a fine balance of possession and penetration in his game, often acting as the key transitional operator from the midfield into the final third. His linking of play and the vertical threat which he provides could be incredibly effective from directly behind the partnership of Suárez and Sturridge. Combined together, that attacking trio could become one of the best and most dynamic in the Premier League.
Having a third centre-back in the team alongside the aforementioned wing-backs can also help to provide more defensive stability within the side. With Daniel Agger, Mamadou Sakho, Kolo Touré and Martin Škrtel all vying for spots in the team (and that doesn’t even include their younger options), Liverpool have some real quality in this position to allow both Enrique and Johnson to bomb on whilst having sufficient cover at the back. Throw Lucas Leiva into the mix with these players and Rodgers has a very secure defensive core in the side, one which can provide more freedom to the attacking unit. It would also allow Steven Gerrard more freedom to get forward, where he is more effective rather than in the ‘sitting’ position he has adopted in front of the defence.
All in all, it looks as if this formation could well be a possibility for the future. Whether there will be a permanent change to a 3-5-2 system at some point is yet to be seen, but based on the options Liverpool have right now it is definitely a real consideration in the plans of Brendan Rodgers. It will most likely end up being the second option behind the 4-2-3-1 which has been predominantly favoured during Rodgers’ reign, especially as that can accommodate a wider range of players – for example the likes of Moses, Aspas, Allen, Sterling and Henderson will all push for regular game time but arguably aren’t quite suited to the 3-5-2 compared to the more key members of the squad.
This being another option however is a testament to their squad depth and variety, in that these two systems can both be seriously considered, and it will be very interesting to see the tactical development of Liverpool over the course of the season.