Chelsea’s shock defeat at Newcastle allowed Liverpool to climb up to second place in the Premier League table before their crunch clash against table toppers Arsenal even kicked off on Saturday evening. Brendan Rodgers’ men had the chance to leapfrog the Gunners into first place, but a disappointing 2-0 defeat at the hands of the in-form London side saw the Reds drop down to the position they started the day in – third.
The result and performance brought Liverpool and their supporters back down to earth. Given the Merseysiders’ terrific start to the campaign and the superb Luis Suarez-Daniel Sturridge partnership in attack, some had suggested that the Anfield outfit could be considered as title contenders this season. That may still be the case, but the Reds now sit five points behind the league leaders and have some tough away fixtures to come in the coming weeks.
Going to Emirates Stadium was never going to be easy for Liverpool, particularly considering how well Arsenal have been playing this term and the form of Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud. But the Reds’ task was made even more difficult by the absences of first-choice wing-backs Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique. Despite the injuries, Rodgers persisted with his 3-5-2 system, but Jon Flanagan and Aly Cissokho never quite looked fully comfortable doing the crucial job required of wing-backs in this formation.
The 3-5-2 allows for the pairing of Suarez and Sturridge and relative solidity at the back with three centre-backs. However, it is essential that the wing-backs in such a system are energetic, quick, attack minded and of course, defensively sound – as these two players are effectively the only wide options in the team. Flanagan, a surprise inclusion, did not have a particularly bad game, but he does not perform the role that the more creative and effective Johnson can. Cissokho, in short, simply looked vulnerable and unconvincing while he was on the pitch.
Perhaps Rodgers was in a lose-lose situation. Had he opted to revert to a 4-2-3-1 for this game, separating the lethal front two of Suarez and Sturridge, then he would have been criticised for doing so if Liverpool had lost. A 4-4-2 would have seen the Reds overrun in midfield. The 3-5-2 without top quality wing-backs is flawed, but no formation is guaranteed to secure a victory.
This setback will allow the manager to consider how to fine-tune his current favoured system, or whether it is even worth doing so. Four of Liverpool’s next five fixtures are against Fulham, Hull City, Norwich City and West Ham United, before tough trips to White Hart Lane, Stamford Bridge and Etihad Stadium. Rodgers has many minutes of football to experiment with before those difficult games arrive.
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