08 February 2009

So what was the deal with the 3-4-3?

The team sheet and formation had a fair few confused, including yours truly, so I’ve been dwelling on Benitez’s possible rationale. Beware, this is going to get extra sycophantic.

Obviously, most important was the freshness of the team. It may have been a “second string” side, but it still included eight internationals (Carragher, Aurelio, and Ngog were the others) and on paper was better than Portsmouth at pretty much every position. It also included a few players with a point to prove – mainly Agger, Babel, and Ngog.

It may have included six defenders – again, more out of necessity – but that too had a purpose: congest the area around Crouch in an attempt to prevent any flick-ons, a plan that worked until the 62nd minute when Basinas hit an outstanding pass, both Carragher and Skrtel failed to close down the former Liverpool man, and Arbeloa couldn’t get back to cover Nugent. Both Arbeloa and Dossena did well to support the attack and stretch the field from wing-back, and Agger and Skrtel also got forward, bringing the ball out of defense when they had the space (which is why those two featured instead of Hyypia).

And even though Liverpool didn’t get the early goal, it’s not as if they weren’t creating more than in recent draws, even those against the likes of Stoke and Fulham. Benayoun, Aurelio (twice) and Mascherano all came close within the first 30 minutes. I’m sure Tony Adams didn’t expect this formation either, and catching the opposition unprepared had to be in Benitez’ mind.

Portsmouth most likely planned for what I’d guessed: most likely the 4-2-3-1 with a fatigued Torres up top, or possibly the 4-4-2 with Kuyt and either Babel or Ngog. And if either of those formations were the case, the home side would have attempted to strangle the life out of the game and hoof it up to Crouch, like we’ve seen from so many other sides so far this season.

Portsmouth may be gash of late, but they were always going to come to terms with the changes – the hope was to score before that happened. At this point, it started to look a bit like all the other games where Liverpool’s struggled to break down the opposition, even when they’ve had a full-strength squad.

And when Liverpool didn’t get the goal, Benitez made substitutions which changed the game: Kuyt to stretch it with his work ethic, Alonso to unlock it, and then the genius Torres, who was the most fatigued, in the last 15 minutes to provide that spark. I love it when a plan comes to fruition.

Now, two defensive mistakes almost made all that logic moot– but that’s football. And it’s not as if Liverpool were solely lucky: Nugent was arguably offside for the opener, Kuyt was arguably onside for the disallowed goal, and the foul that led to the free kick for Pompey’s second sure was arguable.

It is, after all, a thin line between genius and insanity. Crouch or Kranjcar could have deflected Aurelio’s free kick, Distin could have cleared prior to Kuyt’s goal, or Distin could have stayed closer to Torres instead of edging closer to his goal line. You know, all the normal moments that a game can turn on.

At the end of the day, what matters are the three points. And to think, at 1-2, I was worried Benitez was on pace to be questioned more than after any other result.


Danny Bagucci said...

Guess all is well that ends well as they say.. But i think some major rethinks need to happen in the summer -- Babel, Dossena, the Yanks and the debt situation, a decent back up for Torres and or Gerrard....

Andrew said...

Since reading that "fantastic column about Rafa" nate supplied us with a link to, I've become a much bigger Rafa fan. But unfortunately I just found an article from the Sunday Express titled "EXCLUSIVE: WIN THE TITLE OR GO."


See for yourself, and pray the owners and not Rafa go.

nate said...


That article says nothing new from what what came out after SOS met with Gillett after the Chelsea match, except for the inference (because no one's quoted saying it) that Benitez has to win the title.

Long story short, if it's in the Express, I'm inclined to believe the opposite's the truth.

Abhiram said...

Very well drawn comment nate.. Super analysis. Although i was partly hoping that the 'radical' Rafa to bring in Pacheco or El Zhar into the first team, it turned out that Rafa did not go that radical and worked with a 3-4-3 with Bennayoun, Babel and Ngog up front... Pretty logical eh? :)! Babel is a little bit rusty if u ask me. Ngog did not have much to do in the first half but he showed a few glimpses of his ability in the second half when he side-stepped Distin. Loved the game. Bennayoun was my MOM. When Keane was sold, Rafa clearly mentioned this was a risk worth taking. Rafa is a planner and thinker. He does not make blind decisions. I feel he has seen something in Ngog or Babel or even Pacheco that makes him think Keane is surplus to requirements at Anfield. I trust Rafa.

The passion with which the Reds were playing in the begining of the season has returned. I read a few articles harping about us putting 6 defenders on the field against Portsmouth and how defensive Rafa was. I would just want to ask them did they even see the game? Some of the passages in play that game was among the best we have played this season. We had 4 in the box when Aurelio received the shot which he put wide. Not seen that in a long time.

Sorry for the long comment. :) YNWA

Hectorious said...


I just wanted to express my gratitude for your relatively level-headed articles this season in regards to the season so far. The constant Benitez criticism found elsewhere online is pretty baffling, especially in regards to the team selections the last few weeks. Agger, Carragher, and Skrtel at the back is a defensive line I've been waiting to see for a while, and I think it might explain the idea behind the Dossena and Degen signings. While many fans were clamoring for the first-teamers, there's no sense in calling on tired players and placing high expectations on them. Dossena gave the team about the same quality, IMO better though, than Riera's performances in the past two weeks, and Ngog and Fabio performed admirably when asked to step up. Other than Skrtel, Hyypia, Torres, Alonso, and Mascherano, every first-team player shows the ability to comfortably step in at other positions when called upon. Of that list, when would you need Torres or Mascherano on the wing, or Alonso up front?

nate said...

Well, even though it hasn't happened this season, Alonso's played center back before, and could do so in the league if need be. I think it was just in preseason, but it may have happened as a forced change in the last minutes of a game a season or two ago.

But yeah, one of Rafa's biggest desires is to have multi-purpose, even 'total football' types of players. That and work ethic is the key to being a 'Benitez player.'

Hectorious said...

Fortunately, LFC has not had to use makeshift CB's as of late (I think the last player to serve the position was Riise a year or two ago) also as an end of game situation, but that was pre-Skrtel. I think I may be wrong about Alonso's versatility through personal bias since I'd see no point in moving him upfield where he wouldn't have as much time on the ball, and he currently serves as the focal distributor in the LFC team from the middle of the pitch. With the players I listed, its not entirely because they could not play any other positions, but because it's detrimental to the team to ask them to move. Mascherano too could probably play in a backline, but I rate him as the top defensive-midfielder in the world currently (however his form this season isn't up to his standard), so I doubt Benitez would move him.

Anonymous said...

Xabi could play right midfield if he had to.

CSD said...

I think it was partially an experiment because I believe Xabi's serving suspension in the next league match for 5 yellows. That could leave both him and Gerrard out of the midfield if Stevie's still injured.

john said...

I have the feeling that this was not a tactical decision made out of desperation. Teams had figured out how to play us to a draw and it was killing us. This new formation means they need to rethink that plan. And imagine what this formation would look like with the full squad at his disposal?

It may not work against teams playing attacking football, but when a team decides or is expected to "park the bus," this formation may offer the key to opening up their defense.

I was pleased to see new ideas from Rafa.

David said...

Awesome blog, dude--well done.

I've thought long and hard about what to describe this particular formation as since Saturday, and came up with 3-4-2-1 as the best descriptive, with 3-2-2-2-1 as another option. I like the thinking behind it, as it takes advantage of the squad strength (center backs, central midfield) while compensating for its weaknesses (full back, wingers) with a formation that buys space and time for wide players and gives central players an extra option when passing in midfield. Rafa, however, is driving positively mad, and I'm not entirely sure he's right for the position...but he sure is entertaining, to say the least. That is a FACT.