Arsenal’s clear reluctance to sign ‘difficult’ Italian striker Mario Balotelli this summer didn’t put Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers off sanctioning a £16m move for the 24-year-old, who could make his debut when the Merseysiders attempt to overcome 17/10 odds at Spurs this weekend.
Balotelli became the Reds’ ninth senior signing of a summer largely funded by the £75m sale of Luis Suarez to Barcelona, and the former Manchester City, Inter and AC Milan hitman – whose career league goals-per-games ratio isn’t far off one in two – could be the most significant.
His capture means Rodgers now has a range of options at his disposal with regard to how Liverpool set up, but the waning influence of captain Steven Gerrard – further evidenced by his recent poor showing in the 3-1 loss at City – means the Northern Irish coach may be forced to ape the latest trend.
Last season, Liverpool went with a fluid three-man forward line of Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling, with the latter scoring three goals and laying on a further two in six top-flight matches played slightly further back in the number ten role, according to WhoScored.com.
The same website identifies last term’s Premier League runners-up as having played 4-2-3-1 in their fortunate opening-day 2-1 win at home to Southampton, while switching to 4-3-3 for the defeat at the home of the champions, with Philippe Coutinho taking up the role Suarez vacated.
This clearly didn’t work, and while Rodgers has players such as Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic to come into the forward line, a switch to the 3-5-2 that served the Netherlands so well during the World Cup must be tried, especially seeing as Liverpool now have the squad to implement such a strategy.
A Rodgers three-man backline picks itself, with current first-choice pairing Dejan Lovren and Martin Skrtel keeping France World Cup starter Mamadou Sakho on the bench.
The former Paris Saint-Germain star’s presence in the backline would allow Lovren to step forward, and provide extra cover to a two-man central midfield featuring box-to-box marathon man Jordan Henderson and playmaker Coutinho, whose passing skills are wasted further forward.
Spanish full-backs Alberto Moreno, Javier Manquillo and Jose Enrique are all experienced at charging up and down the flanks, with the latter used as a winger at times during Rodgers’ first season in charge (2012/13), while wing-back has always been Glen Johnson’s true position.
Setting up in such a way would allow Sterling to operate as a number ten just behind Balotelli and Sturridge, without sacrificing pace on the wings or leaving gaps between midfield and attack.
It would open Liverpool up to accusations of copying new Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal, who is attempting to implement a similar strategy at Old Trafford, but Rodgers has tried three at the back before at Anfield and with the right personnel, he won’t be above doing so again.