Brendan Rodgers arrived at Liverpool preaching the 4-3-3 and death by football. Five games into his fourth year in charge, mostly any time one hears the phrase "death by football" it's to lament how painful Liverpool have mostly been to watch since the club sold Luis Suarez in the summer of 2014.
As for the 4-3-3, Rodgers still appears to be leaning on it as his default formation, even when it seems to clearly not be doing him or his players any favours. Such was the case on Saturday against Manchester United, where it left the lone striker painfully isolated and a pair of central players stuck ineffectively out on the wings.
"It's [a formation] he likes to use, but it's never really worked," was ex-Red and Sky pundit Jamie Carragher's take on Rodgers' 4-3-3 on Monday night as he sought to explain his former club's failings against United over the weekend and became the latest prominent footballing figure to question Rodgers' approach.
"The makeup of the squad, in terms of strikers and number tens and Jordon Ibe being the only out and out wide player. That's perhaps why he's playing three in the centre of the midfield. The thing for Brendan Rodgers is how can he get his players into the positions they want to play in? At the moment he's finding it difficult."
Ibe and, if he's played in an advanced role, Alberto Moreno are the only senior players at the club comfortable being pinned to the wing. It was odd, then, to see Liverpool insist on playing wide and defensive 4-3-3 against United without either on the pitch. Most damningly, when things didn't work, Rodgers refused to change.
The manager may have wanted to get his best players out on the pitch from the start, but once it became clear Plan A wasn't working, there needed to be a Plan B—either a formational shift to get Roberto Firmino and Danny Ings more central, or to bring on players who could more effectively fill the roles asked of them.
"Moving forward, they need to get two strikers on the pitch again," added Carragher, who like so many fans seems puzzled by Rodgers' apparent refusal to revisit the 4-4-2 diamond that brought the club so much success two seasons ago. "It's a system that brought them so many goals when they nearly won the league."
With the four strikers and a wealth of central support players on the squad, it feels as though a narrow formation that gets as many of them as possible onto the pitch in the areas they're comfortable in and relies on width to come from the fullbacks is the only sensible approach. It's what the squad seems custom built for.
Whether it's a diamond or a narrow 4-2-3-1 or the 4-3-2-1 Christmas Tree, Rodgers' moves in the transfer market—both his signings and the players who have been sent away—seem to only work if the middle of the pitch is overloaded with strikers and number tens. So far, though, Liverpool haven't set up that way.
And so far, the results have been rather predictable, with the club playing exceptionally poor football and lacking any kind of an identity. The only question now is whether Rodgers can figure out this puzzle he's made for himself and turn things around quickly enough to save his job.