I think we can all agree that it was somewhat of a surprise to see King Kenny employ 3 center halves along with a pair of wing backs as our defensive shape today. I applaud the move personally, as the extra center half allows the outside two to drift wide and pick up strikers as needed without the necessity of totally vacating the inner defensive position when wide defenders push forward. The central figure can slide over and fill the defensive responsibilities of the particular side requiring its defender to match up on the ball or pick up a wide run. The added presence of Lucas and Aurelio in front of the back four provides a very fluid defensive base to build upon as they too can pickup a man or fill space in the back line.
These five players provide a strong enough defensive core to really turn the players ahead of them loose. With Gerrard and Meireles freed from most of their defensive responsibilities outside of dropping back a bit further when we lost possession they are able to provide much more in the way of forward runs into the box and being in the appropriate position to pick up deflections/crosses/clearances in good positions ready to put a shot on target. Essentially it allows those players we have that can produce magical moments to spend more of their time attempting to produce them.
What surprises me the most about this though, was the striking similarity I saw in this tactical approach to what Rafa Benitez seemed to have proscribed as the answer to our well documented lack of goals pre 08/09. I wrote an article for this site at the time, which explores the idea more in depth with the players involved with us at the time.
Now certainly I’m not Rafa and we can’t say for sure exactly what he would have done, but we do know a few things. He was behind bringing in Barry and Keane, changed his mind against bringing in Keane when it became clear Barry wasn’t coming but got stuck with him as a result of a Rick Parry ego trip pushing the transfer through. We never saw this formation experimentation I hypothesized in the linked article as long as Keane was at the club, and he played less and less as Rafa’s displeasure with his presence became clearer and clearer. I believe Rafa made quite clear his intention to do just what I suggested tactically though following Robbie’s exit back to Tottenham on Feb 2, 2009 with the team he fielded immediately after at Portsmouth.
Three center halves, a rare start for Dossena, and Fabio Aurelio deployed as a holding midfielder just as he was today. We haven’t seen many appearances from him in that position, but interestingly enough two of them came in matches with wild variation from our tactical patterns two years and two mangers apart. It’s difficult to say what may have happened had Rafa gotten in the players he wanted for the formation he envisioned us playing. Would we have made up the four point gap on United and won the league? Possibly. Would Dossena’s defensive shortcomings have been more acceptable in a system where we only required to defend sparingly. Probably so. The questions are endless, but we’ll never know for sure.
Sadly in the Portsmouth instance it was a middle finger from Rafa to Rick Parry in honor of a fork in the road that he tried to take us down but couldn’t quite do so. Only after Keane was gone would he play the formation, and then it disappeared just as quickly.
Today, however, King Kenny has employed this formation in what I consider to be a nod to the future. A future of pass and move, a future of width, and a future of goals while keeping clean sheets at the other end. It is a return to the Liverpool Way of old that we have sorely lacked over the past few years, and a sign our manager has plenty of his own thoughts about what is to be done out on the pitch to take us where we need to go. We know he was involved with the club when Rafa was still here, so perhaps he even discussed these very issues with him at the time the Barry and Keane sagas were taking place.
Potential Lineup with Rafa
Potential Lineup with Kenny
Carroll’s height and aerial prowess adds another element to a formation like this, in that he is able to bring the other attackers running onto him from the midfield with his head. His physicality in holding the ball up will also allow us to transition more easily from defense to attack. The possibilities are endless as far as I can see, especially considering the wide players we will most likely be looking to bring in this summer.
I am extremely excited to see our on field product the next few seasons in a way I haven’t been in a long time. This mixture of new (NESV) and old (King Kenny) hints at something timeless to come.