If Arsenal hadn’t already destroyed Liverpool’s three centre-back plans earlier on in their dominant win on Saturday, then those same plans disappeared down the Emirates Stadium tunnel along with the pointlessly dismissed Emre Can shortly before the end.
At least in the short-term, the absences of the banned Can and Martin Skrtel should ensure that Brendan Rodgers reverts to a more traditional defensive system for the FA Cup quarter-final replay trip to Blackburn Rovers.
It is one thing to persevere and in most cases impress with a new formation, but it is quite another when players who are unfamiliar with it come into the side and take on talented opposition.
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In playing as they did on Saturday the Reds simply dared their hosts to find ways to unlock them, and when those hosts can boast players as talented as Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Olivier Giroud and others then you are just asking for trouble.
Of course Blackburn don’t have anyone as good as them, but it is about time that Liverpool changed their approach in order to set a stage for their brightest attacking talents to shine.
At Ewood Park, Rodgers should revert to the diamond formation which served him so well in several away games last season.
He doesn’t have Luis Suarez to call upon to sparkle in it this time, of course, but in Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling he does have the makings of an impressive partnership and one which gives Liverpool the most chance of scoring the goals they need to succeed.
Football is, essentially, about scoring those goals, but somewhere amidst the laments of last season’s near title miss and some high-profile comings and goings Liverpool seem to have forgotten that. They’ve gone from a side which could carve you open to one which is happy to sit at the corner of the table, occasionally reaching for the gravy boat to no avail before returning to meekly staring at their dry turkey dinner.
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How do you solve that? By packing your team with goal threats. By playing Sturridge and Sterling as a sort of ‘SAS’ 2.0, supported by the talents of Philippe Coutinho in the No. 10 role and then Jordan ‘four in his last six’ Henderson in midfield.
There might even be room for Lazar Markovic if you wanted to drop one of Joe Allen or Lucas Leiva, but the Serbian could make an impact from the bench if needed, as could Mario Balotelli. If Adam Lallana is declared fit for this game then he’s another name to add to the debate for a starting berth – probably a more convincing one than the other two.
Given the performances of Kolo Toure and Alberto Moreno at the Emirates – and indeed Moreno’s against Manchester United – then there is every chance that the faces in the Reds’ defence are going to be much-changed for a game which can at least pull a trip to Wembley out of a disappointing season, and so given that it surely makes sense to revert to a back four.
Dejan Lovren, Javier Manquillo and Glen Johnson are all likely to feel a degree of nerves should they be called upon – although whether Johnson feels anything as his time at the club drifts to a close is up for debate – and so they’ll need the safety blanket of a system they are used to. Lucas and Allen can provide that cover, and then it’s up to the other four to go and score some goals.
Both men at the head of the team would surely welcome a partner, too.
Sturridge can often go into a shell when isolated, frustrated by a lack of options and forced into trying to trick his way past opponents whilst still 40 yards from goal. Sterling, for his part, would surely welcome the opportunity to share the limelight with someone, anyone right now.
By partnering them at Blackburn, Rodgers would be sending out a team with much more of a goal threat than the one we saw at the Emirates.
Playing three at the back and the resultant room it created for others was one of the turning points of Liverpool’s season, but at a time when they need to save it it makes sense to go back to basics.
It might not have seemed it at the time, but maybe Can’s red card did Rodgers a favour?
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