Brendan Rodgers' 3-4-2-1 formation could be the answer to Liverpool's woes
LEAGUE CUP QUARTER-FINAL
(Dan Gosling 57)
(Raheem Sterling 20, 51, Lazar Markovic 27)
Liverpool's latest 3-4-2-1 formation features no real strikers.
It sounds like a desperate plot from a B-grade movie.
But it may also be Brendan Rodgers' best option to get the Reds out of the mess they are in.
It was when the Reds abandoned their fear of losing and went hog wild in attack that they recovered some semblance of cohesion at the Goldsands Stadium yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Raheem Sterling rediscovered his scoring touch by netting a double in the 3-1 win over Bournemouth that took them into the League Cup semi-finals.
Even the hapless Lazar Markovic got into the act with his first goal for his club.
Rodgers' gamble paid off this time.
Yet, he could have also quite easily fallen flat on his face.
Considering even Vicente del Bosque came under a barrage of criticism as Spain waltzed their way to the 2012 European Championship title with no proper striker for much of the way, what right did Rodgers have to attempt it when Liverpool are in such dire straits?
But the Northern Irishman needed a solution to Liverpool's biggest problem.
Between Rickie Lambert, Fabio Borini and Mario Balotelli, he could coax out of them a grand total of only four goals from 42 appearances.
The injured Daniel Sturridge looks like his only hope of turning the club's season around but the England forward doesn't look anywhere near a return.
And so, like he did last weekend against Manchester United, Rodgers went with a "false No. 9" - Sterling - with the creative duo of Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana in support.
Markovic and Jordan Henderson took on unfamiliar roles as wingbacks, while Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva shouldered the defensive midfield duties in the middle of the park.
The trio of Dejan Lovren, Martin Skrtel and Kolo Toure took up their positions in the backline, and Brad Jones kept his place in goal.
It was controversial, yes.
Markovic, bought for £20 million ($41m) as a wing wizard, was operating as a left wingback.
Sterling took over the bulk of the goal-scoring responsibilities despite going into this game without scoring for almost three months.
Gerrard, deployed in more advanced positions in recent weeks, had been reined in for this outing.
The ratio of outfield players read like this: three defenders, seven midfielders, zero striker.
But, against Bournemouth, if you would discount the final half-hour when they hung on for their dear lives, this system worked a treat.
Markovic and Henderson's pace and industry on the flanks offered the team width, both defensively and offensively.
In front, Coutinho, Lallana and Sterling provided guile and dynamism so lacking in previous matches, even if the partnership looks a little too lightweight.
The fluidity seen in Liverpool's first goal, which came after 51 passes involving all 10 outfield players in the build-up, brought back memories of last season.
By the final whistle, the Reds had carved out 20 chances, including eight on target.
Using the same formation against Man United last Sunday, they were torn to shreds in a 0-3 loss.
But it was also the first time in weeks that Liverpool looked a wee bit menacing in the final third of the field.
They fired away 19 attempts on goal, of which nine were on target. By comparison, United took only 11 shots (six on target).
The biggest difference between Liverpool in the last two matches and pretty much every game before those is that they look like scoring goals again.
And that can be their first step towards recovery.
The only thing that didn't change was the helter-skelter defending but, nothing new here.
Last season, Rodgers was rightly lauded for his tactical flexibility and bravery.
This time around, the 3-4-2-1 may be his last throw of the dice.
Rodgers hails Sterling effort
Brendan Rodgers revealed his bemusement at criticism of Raheem Sterling, whose Man-of-the-Match display fired Liverpool into the League Cup semi-finals.
The 20-year-old shone in the "false No. 9" position against Championship leaders Bournemouth and netted either side of Lazar Markovic's first goal for the Reds as they teed up a two-legged semi-final against Chelsea.
Sterling was on a 22-match goal drought, which stretched back to September. He continues to be linked with a move to Real Madrid as he is yet to sign a new deal at Anfield.
Rodgers said: "I thought he was outstanding. The kid, for some reason, seems to be getting a lot of stick off a lot of people for something.
"His contract situation is nothing to do with him and his representatives are working with the club.
"He is, as you can see, happy and enjoying his football. At Old Trafford, he was unfortunate not to score and, in that role he plays, you think of Alexis Sanchez when he plays for Arsenal.
"He is not an out-and-out striker, but his speed in front of the back four and behind them causes problems and you've seen that with him here, he can get it, turn and go at defenders.
"He has been like that all season and been a real catalyst for us."
Sterling ended a stunning passing move with a close-range header to break the deadlock and he put the game beyond the Cherries with a textbook run and low finish.
The England winger should really have taken home the match ball, but dragged an effort wide after being superbly teed up by Adam Lallana, one of a number of chances squandered by a revitalised Liverpool.
And Rodgers saw plenty in the opening hour to suggest the worst weeks are behind his struggling side.
He said: "There is a long way to go but this was a tough game, coming to a side top of the Championship. They are going well and for us to come and dominate like we did and score the goals that we did was very pleasing." - PA Sport.
'Bring on Chelsea'
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers insists he is relishing the prospect of facing Chelsea in the League Cup semi-finals, after defeating Bournemouth 3-1.
Jose Mourinho's team, currently top of the Premier League, had won 2-1 at Anfield this season but Rodgers, who has been under pressure after Liverpool's poor showing, is confident his side can make amends with a place in the Wembley final at stake in the two-legged tie next month.
"It will be a fantastic tie," said Rodgers. "If you want to win this competition, you have to play against the good sides. We're into the semi-final, it's over two legs and it didn't matter who we got. We needed to get there, it's Chelsea and we look forward to it."
League One side Sheffield United will face Tottenham in the other semi-final.
The Blades shocked Premier League side Southampton 1-0 at Bramall Lane on Tuesday and will travel to White Hart Lane for the first leg. Spurs booked their last-four spot with a 4-0 demolition of Newcastle yesterday morning. - AFP.
- Liverpool v Chelsea
- Tottenham v Sheffield United
*Two-legged ties to be played on Jan 20 & 21 and 27 & 28.