???️ Could Liverpool Play 3 At The Back?

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If you go on Netflix at the moment you will have seen that the 80’s are very much in vogue. “Stranger Things” “Glow”; people are reminiscing on their childhood. However, I was a child of the 90’s, not yet so cool. However there were lots of things I look back on from the 90s with fondness: the curtain haircut which I shamefully sported, the mainstreaming of the Britpop movement in bands like Blur and Oasis, the Rock and Stonecold on WWF, the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and one last thing… This was  probably the last time I actually cared about watching England in a football tournament. The summer of Euro 96, I watched on tenterhooks as England actually put in a decent performance at a major tournament, interestingly using the 3-5-2 formation. Yes, younger generation, playing three at the back has been around that long. It’s actually been around a lot longer. And in an age where, at least for reds, Spice Boys were more important than Spice Girls,  cream suits were cool, Jason Mcateer did shampoo commercials and Robbie Fowler snorted bylines, Liverpool played three at the back too. The night of the Famous 4 – 3 against Newcastle, that was our system of choice and it is probably in one game a great example of the pros and cons of using it. Since the 90´s, the fad of three centre backs has drifted in and out fashion; who can forget us deploying it the  spring of 2015? It  almost turned a dreadful post-Suarez season around for us. It actually made Martin Skrtel look like a competent defender. The radical change between the fleeting dalliances with the system and what occurred last year is that for the first time a manager used a formation with three at the back to clinch the Premier League title. Previously it had been seen as a system for jolly foreigners, while we brits would stick to our four-man defence, thank you very much. What is also noteworthy was Chelsea didn’t play with two strikers. Previous incarnations, used against the good old 4-4-2 system,were a way of getting two forwards on the pitch and still overloading the opposition in midfield. However with most teams playing with a three-man narrower midfield, Chelsea changed this. They play with two attacking midfielders finding pockets of space where centre backs can’t pick them up, while still maintaining the numerical advantage in midfield. The sucess Chelsea had spurred off many of the teams around them to attempt to replicate this success. By the end of the season, Tottenham, Man City, Arsenal and Everton had all regularly used three at the back. We even dabbled with it ourselves away at Stoke. With Man Utd testing out the system on their pre-season tour, it looks like three-at-the-back is here to stay. Klopp when interviewed this summer spoke about the need for us to develop  tactical flexibility; the ability to start or change the formation within a game. We have already seen him switch between a 4-2-3-1 in his first season to a 4-3-3; he has also at times played with a diamond midfield. The question therefore exists, with the current squad is three-at-the-back a realistic regular option? Immediately, we come to a huge problem with the reds applying the system effectively.  Right now, we struggle to put two centre backs on the pitch that the fans appreciate, how would increasing the need to three help us. The demands that playing three at the back put on a centre back requires a special set of skills. With three defenders the area of the pitch to attack a defence is from out wide. The ability for a centre back to move to deal with wingers means at times they are required to play as an auxiliary fullback. This accounts for the great success that Azpilicueta, a converted full back, has had at Chelsea. Whereas Lovren and Klaven would most likely find these demands difficult to fulfill, Joe Gomez would seem an excellent fit for this role. Alongside Matip and hopefully a Van Dijk, the needs for adaptable centre backs might be able to be met. As a longshot at 5,11 ½  Jon Flannagan with his tenacious tackling could even be a viable option. Moving into midfield, Central midfield would seem to fill the roles easily. Henderson, Can, Gini, Grucic and Lallana, if anything we have too many. The principal problem is the wingback role. Neither, Clyne, Milner or Moreno can realistically fill it, we will give Robertson a pass for now. Victor Moses for Chelsea and the Ox at Arsenal have demonstrated the value for playing a hard working but honestly not very good winger as a wing back. For once, and this is hard for me believe, we don’t have bad wide players. In reality, we don’t have good wide players or even just OK wide players, we probably have the best set of wide players in the league. The only draw back is we don’t have many of them. In the current squad Mane and Salah have the attributes to do the attacking side of the game, however utilising them as wing backs would be a bold decision by Klopp to say the least. However maybe not as crazy as it sounds. Against Burnley, Hull, Swansea, Sunderland and many other teams, Clyne and Milner basically played as wingers for the majority of the game, producing little. Why not have actual wingers give it a shot. Now to the attack. With Sturridge, Origi, Solanke, Ings, Firmino, Coutinho and even Lallana. We are not lacking players who can fill those three roles. Klopp would have the option to go with a front two or with two attacking midfielders. Having coutinho and Firmino in behind Daniel Sturridge would potentially offer the skills and workrate of Firmino alongside the finishing of Sturridge without pushing one of the two to the wing. What we can see is that it isn’t impossible for us to fit the players into the formation. With good players it rarely is. However it would be far from a good fit. We would be putting a number of round pegs in square holes. It would be naive to believe that this system could be workable against the bigger teams. We could not afford to give the space that this system would create to a Chelsea or Man City expecting wide forwards to defend competently in a wing back role. However against teams that are going to sit deep, the idea of a formation which could have get Sturridge, Firmino, Coutinho, Mane and Salah on the field at the same time could be one hell of a sight to see.
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