The tactical flexibility Liverpool displayed last season under Brendan Rodgers means they are better positioned to adapt to the loss of their senior centre-forward than most top-flight sides.
Daniel Sturridge is a doubt for the club’s first Champions League fixture in four seasons after his injury on England duty and seems almost certain to miss Aston Villa’s visit to Anfield.
Luckily for Liverpool they have the personnel to adapt to variety of potential formations ahead of the clash with the Villans, which they are 1/4 to win, with Mario Balotelli chomping at the bit.
However, the Palermo-born hitman is arguably more an old school number nine to Sturridge’s nine-and-a-half and rates a far from like-for-like replacement.
Below are the three configurations the Merseysiders have already used this season in the eyes of whoscored.com, ranked in order of how well they use the assets available.
Third – 4-1-2-1-2
It may be the configuration responsible for their most visually impressive result of the campaign – the 3-0 savaging of Tottenham – but there’s reason to suspect that substituting the guile and mobility of Sturridge for Rickie Lambert alongside Balotelli may render it less incisive.
However, in it’s favour, this system was notable for the licence it gave Raheem Sterling to roam destructively around the area in front of the Spurs backline in the number ten role that is seemingly his best position.
Yet, a lack of width in the offensive ranks puts the onus on the Liverpool fullbacks to attack too, which is far from ideal against counter-attack specialists like Villa.
Second – 4-3-3
Used in big games such as the Anfield success over Man City last term, it was the chosen configuration for the losing trip to the Etihad in 2013/14.
On a going day few centre-forwards are better suited to the lone striker’s role than Balotelli, but at this stage it’s too early to gauge the regularity with which such moments will arrive.
The 4-3-3 boasts greater attacking width than a 4-1-2-1-2 and the likely benefit of forcing the Villans to match Liverpool player for player is a further feather in it’s cap.
It also offers the enticing possibility of Philippe Coutinho controlling the attacking play from his throne in the midfield engine room.
However, it does mean that Sterling is shunted back out to the wing, making it harder for the Reds to get men in around their new centre-forward.
First – 4-2-3-1
The 4-4-2 bastardisation du jour is the best formation to employ in Sturridge’s absence.
It provides the width to create penalty area opportunities for Balotelli, an excellent header of the ball, without overburdening the fullbacks with attacking duties.
Yet, unlike a 4-3-3, it also allows Sterling to reprise his devastating White Hart Lane number ten turn to offer the line-leading Italian closer support.