Should we go back to two up front?
Yes, yes we should operate with two up front. Brendan Rodgers is in many ways unpredictable, apart from when it comes to 98% of the formations he fields having one out-and-out striker at the top of it. Whichever of the various ways Rodgers insists his players funnel the ball forward it always has one focal point at the business end.
We are the football equivalent of one of those crap multi-ink ball point pens that girls had at school during the 1980’s, with around 10 different refills inside which could be changed at the click of a thumb and a frustrated hammering of it on the desk.
It’s even more the case now that Christian Benteke is the nib of that point. No offence to the fella intended and I like him, but as we become more aerially centric than we’ve ever before been under Rodgers it’s no good Benteke winning all those headers unless he has a team-mate situated at least 10 yards closer to him when head meets ball. We can’t continue to preach width in the forward third and go airborne. It has to be narrower and airborne, or expansive and on the ground for me. The in-between we’ve been trying out doesn’t actually work.
The crunch comes when Daniel Sturridge is fit and available. If both Benteke and Sturridge take to the pitch then something has to give, unless Rodgers intends to field one of them in the ‘outside’ positions, which of course you can’t put past the realms of probability with Rodgers.
I’d prefer us to go 3-5-2 again, but that is a formation Rodgers drops very quickly whenever he’s tried it before. It almost becomes a scapegoat formation in a way his 4-3-3 and 3-4-3 babies don’t. If 3-5-2 doesn’t work it’s because of the formation, but if 4-3-3 or 3-4-3 doesn’t work it’s because of the players. At least that’s the way it feels to me. 3-5-2 would give us a column of solidity centrally where it’s needed most and allow us to play two up front.
I'm not sure we have much choice, as we can't carry on as we have over the first four games, where Benteke has generally fed on scraps. It's a good job we had a dozy linesman against Bournemouth because otherwise the big fella would have failed to find the net in his opening four games and it would have started to become 'a thing'.
Not that I blame Benteke for any of that, he's done as well as could be expected really given the lack of service. He should have scored at the Emirates but other than that he's generally done ok considering he's often been operating with no team-mate within 20 yards of him.
Rodgers seems to be married to the one up front thing, which is strange given he's had far better results when he's used two. Of course the two were usually Suarez and Sturridge, and no other combination we've had since could have compared to that, but you do have to wonder why he hasn't tried it more often, particularly given how we've struggled to score goals. It may be over simplifying things, but surely having two out and out strikers up there increases the likelihood of scoring goals?
As bad as Balotelli was last year, he actually looked decent the one and only time he played up top with a partner (Sturridge against Spurs), and with Danny Ings and Divock Origi champing at the bit to get on the pitch, why not give one of them a run out alongside Benteke and see what happens? Failing that, play Firmino as a second striker and stop messing about with him wide in a three.
I'm not sure it will happen this weekend at Old Trafford, Rodgers may well just look to set things up the same way he did at Arsenal, but certainly for the upcoming home games he really needs to be looking at getting another striker on the pitch if we're to start scoring again.
I think this comes down to a question of ethics. Well not ‘ethics’ as such, maybe principles is the better word. Ever since Rodgers took over he’s being trying to steer the team into the 4-3-3 lane with varying degrees of success. In his first season he didn’t have the personnel, in his second he needed to accommodate Suarez and Sturridge so switched to the almost fabled ‘diamond’ and last year… let’s not talk about that.
Rodgers favours the 4-3-3; in principle he loves the formation, it’s his raison-d’être and in an ideal world we’d be using it every week and battering teams. Except we’re not and all 4-3-3 ever seems to do is slow the team down and leave the front man isolated. I suppose in a way the formation is the embodiment of Rodgeball, just not the way he sees it. It frequently sees the team having lots of possession but little to no penetration. We’ve seen it in nearly every season with myriad permutations of players. We play it, we’re slower than a sloth sleeping in cement and we dominate games on the stat sheet but not with the eye test. Possession for the sake of it with no attacking emphasis is not useful, it’s not pretty and it’s more than a little dispiriting.
Rodgers needs to give Benteke support up top and ditching the current style of formation and moving back towards the diamond is the smart play. Benteke can win all the headers he wants, and in fairness he does, but it’s for nought if there’s no one to pick up the second ball. Rodgers bought the players in he felt could make the one up top 4-3-3 work and the result was the same as before. The striker is isolated and there’s a large disconnect between the midfield and the attack.
He’s not resistant to change but perversely that doesn’t make me feel any better as he’s a little too trigger happy when it comes to re-jigging the team. Does that make sense? I admire his ability to make the changes but it worries me that he’s had three years, a whole new raft of players and we still see the same results when he plays what’s regarded as his favoured formation. He then goes changing the formation so often that players are no longer sure what they’re supposed to be doing.
He needs to give Benteke support and whether that’s Ings, Origi or even Sturridge (don’t laugh) then it has to happen. We’re not solid at the back and we’re not creating up front; sounds like a lot of fun to watch that does.