Yesterday, I remarked that Liverpool apparently used the third different formation in three matches despite starting the same front six in all three. What do the Daily Telegraph's average position charts (click on "team stats" on the right sidebar) have to say?
It's difficult to divine the 4-4-2 diamond from the average position diagram against Birmingham. Kuyt and Meireles occupy almost the same location, despite the fact Kuyt seemingly played as a striker, dropping deep receive the ball, while Meireles linked midfield and attack. Spearing is ahead of and to the right of Lucas, while similar goes for Maxi on the left, who's slightly narrower than in the other two matches.
The image below shows the run-up to Liverpool's second. Meireles is tucked in behind the strikers, with Spearing and Maxi on either side and Kuyt and Suarez ahead, ready for the flick-on. Lucas, at the base of the diamond, is out of the picture, protecting the defense only slightly ahead of Carragher and Skrtel.
Against Newcastle, the average position diagram clearly shows more of a 4-2-2-2 formation. Spearing and Lucas are on the same line, Meireles is deeper and wider, and Kuyt is closer to Suarez. As Johnson and Flanagan switched flanks at halftime, neither appears in their "normal" position; Flanagan is next to Lucas while Johnson's circle is hidden by Spearing.
The quick counter-attack for Liverpool's first, bursting from defense, demonstrates this formation. Kuyt and Suarez, each trying to find space, are ahead of the midfield line of four. As the attack progresses, Meireles and Maxi continue ahead of the "holding midfielders"; Maxi eventually takes up a position in space at the back post, in the right place for Williamson's poor clearance.
At Fulham, Liverpool's average position looks similar to that against Birmingham. But it clearly wasn't a 4-4-2 diamond when watching the match. If compelled to make a notation just from the diagram, it looks almost as much a lopsided 4-3-2-1 as 4-2-3-1. Or you could call it 4-5-1. Or 4-3-3. I obviously think I'm right, and it's worth differentiating from the other two matches, but herein lies the flaws of forcing football onto paper.
To again use a singular moment to demonstrate a 90-minute-long match, below shows Liverpool right before the opener, with a deeper Lucas and Spearing poised to launch a quick attack. Suarez is already out of the picture, bursting down the left channel to beat the offside trap, but Maxi, Meireles, and Kuyt form a clear line of three along the halfway line.
Of course, if I looked hard enough, we could probably show different formations from different sequences. Formational notation foibles aside, this flexibility has served Liverpool incredibly well of late. Birmingham, Newcastle, and Fulham may not have been the most daunting of opponents, but two of those three have been painful thorns in Liverpool's side in recent years, while Liverpool failed to beat both Newcastle and Birmingham under Hodgson (spectacularly failed, in the case of Newcastle).
Opposition teams have no clue who's going to pop up in the penalty area, and are infinitely scared of Suarez wherever he may be, permanently on the back foot because of his ability with the ball. Different midfielders have gone through spells of blazing-hot form: first Meireles, scoring five in six during January and February, then Maxi, with seven goals in his last three games. Kuyt's scoring like it's going out of style, tallying nine starting with his hat-trick against the Mancs and notching in each of the last five games. Johnson's return has added much-needed width to the side, creating two assists yesterday.
It'll be interesting to see if Liverpool remains this flexible come next season. Gerrard and Carroll, among others, will return to the starting XI, while Liverpool will be in the market for a left-sided winger/forward at the very least. However, for once, it's nice to live in the moment. I still can't believe I'll be sad to see this season end.