10 May 2011

What's the Formation, Kenneth?

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.


Sam said...

It was definitely 4-2-3-1 last night--don't let the average position diagram talk you out of it. Those things are really misleading, anyway. I think changing the formation around works because we're now so fluid. The positions are more like suggestions (or, rather, a defensive shape). Regardless of starting position, in attack, we've been playing with 2 cms, a link player (Maxi today) and three attackers, usually lopsided to the right. Our 4-4-2, is just as much a lopsided 4-3-3, etc. It's a joy to watch after years and years of very rigid teams.

The most encouraging thing for me was that a) Kenny felt comfortable playing Suarez as a lone striker and b) Suarez was so successful in the position. In big games, playing Suarez as a false 9 is a really important option to have.

drew said...

With all this promise, everything depends on getting things nailed down and having the sort of summer we needed in '09. Not that European football would hurt, mind, but if we can just get off to a decent start come August, the belief should carry over and anything's possible from there.

When I'm next at the bet shop, going to have a look at what price Liverpool getting #20 before United do.

Also: would love to see 'Arry gone from Spurs after us knocking them from Europe, and Rafa appointed in his stead. Because a) Rafa's had so much undeserved stick off Redknapp and his sycophants in England; b) Rafa will be employed again, likely in England, no later than 2013; and c) good as he is, he's far less a threat at Spurs than he would be at City or, less so, Chelsea.

Fortunately I think getting into the CL may keep Mancini around just a bit longer, looking forward to their exit in the round of 16 next season and his too-late sacking.

Just need to finish the job next Sunday--what an escape it would be, too. Steve McQueen stuff, it's been.

drew said...

Also: who're we backing to survive the drop? Me, I reckon the Hammers are gone, and I'm eager to see Wigan down between their shit pitch and their shit football; figure I'd rather Blackpool stay up because they're fun to have round and because we owe them a few bollockings next season.

nate said...

I think the three that are in the relegation zone now are fucked.

Reckon West Ham can win its last two games, while Blackburn will probably lose its last two, but Blackburn should just stay up on goal difference. -14 to -23 as it stands.

Blackpool should beat Bolton at home, but have little chance against United's B-Team (or even C-Team) at Old Trafford. If Wigan beat the Hammers at home, they've a decent chance of staying up, probably needing just a point from the trip to Stoke.

Brum have Fulham at home and a potentially-finished Spurs away. Really should get a point from that. Wolves travel to safe Sunderland, in horrendous form, and host Blackburn, in horrendous form. Reckon we'll have to deal with Mick McCarthy (one in the hole?) for another season.