After struggling through the autumn and with a top four finish seemingly already out of reach, Brendan Rodgers switched formations. Some might argue that the change came later than it should, that it had been clear for some time that four at the back and a single-pivot midfield anchored by Steven Gerrard, an attempt to evolve the previous season’s deadly attacking lineup for life after Luis Suarez, had failed miserably.
The change, though, did eventually come. And that change was good. That change saw Liverpool turn their fortunes around and become the league’s form team in the new year. Then, injuries and individual dips in form saw those fortunes begin to sour. Even when the results were still there, as against Swansea in March, it was clear that things weren’t working as they had been. Rodgers, though, insists the formation hasn’t run its course.
"I don’t think it’s been worked out," he insisted when asked if perhaps opponents had begun to figure out ways to neutralise his narrow system of three centre halves sat behind a box-four midfield—and if he might need to look to change his approach once again in the coming weeks to get Liverpool out of their bad run of form. "We didn’t start well, and it doesn’t matter what system you’re playing when that happens."
Of course, the system you’re playing can contribute to how you start, at least if the opposition is able to find ways to put pressure on it to stop you playing. Rodgers can try to distance the system from the performance, but the reality is that against Swansea, Manchester United, and Arsenal in the league and Blackburn in the league cup, Liverpool’s past four opponents have all found ways to make them look very, very bad for long stretches.
It’s also hard to ignore that in that poor stretch, Liverpool have looked their best when they’ve departed from the three at the back, box four midfield approach. Even if it’s not a case of the opposition having figured out how to shut down Liverpool when they use that system, it’s clear that system isn’t working. It’s all well and good for Rodgers to say the system hasn’t been found out, but even if it hasn’t, it isn’t working.
"The last two games we’ve played, or the last four really, we haven’t created much," added the manager. "That’s on us. Of course you can give the opposition credit for pressing and defending well, but we haven’t created as much, and that’s something we need to improve. It’s my job to always look to find solutions. That’s what I’ve tried to do in games where we haven’t played well. It’s about finding a way to win."
At the time he switched to it, three at the back and four in the middle seemed to suit Liverpool’s personnel perfectly. Over the past month, though, with injuries and suspensions and dips in form—particularly from young players like Emre Can and Alberto Moreno—it has appeared more an more awkward for Rodgers to try to shoehorn players into it. And the result of that hasn’t been good.
With only one chance left for Liverpool to achieve anything of note this season, hopefully there are changes to the approach in store for Wednesday and Rodgers’ insistence that the formation hasn’t been worked out by opponents isn’t a sign he intends to keep trying the same thing that hasn’t been working for the past month again mid-week. Because in the end, that’s all that really matters: that it isn’t working.