Over the past few months, Liverpool tried the whole strikerless approach on several occassions. With Steven Gerrard struggling, with Rickie Lambert off the pace and with others either injured or on the bench then Liverpool were even more reliant on Raheem Sterling. In a way it makes sense and for me, Brendan Rodgers was right in pushing him more centrally some of these matches, playing furthest forward in fact, as he was being marginalized on the wing where he was doubled-up on by opposing teams who were able to contain his threat more comfortably. By playing him more centrally, in a trequartista / false nine role, Rodgers aimed to get more out of his set of talents. Lionel Messi has infamously played in a similar role at Barcelona under Pep Guardiola, which saw them enjoy their most prolific period of trophy success, so why not try it with Sterling?
Every football romantic in the world will be adamantly against the whole concept and while I agree the absence of a striker would seem to be a more negative approach in the pursuit for goals, Liverpool placing emphasis on a false nine or trequartista in combination with midfielder runners could well prove to be a deadly alternative. It would see the young starlet dropping deeper than a conventional centre-forward, linking up with the midfield and making off-the-ball-runs to bamboozle the opposing defence when attacking, or basically the usual strikerless nonsense you’ve all grown accustomed to over the past year or so.
Now before I end up with hysterical Liverpoolfans (are there any other kind of Liverpool fans really?) cluttering up my Twitter time-line or the comments section of this blog post, the idea of this post is to high-light why the players Rodgers sent out do not match the requirements for a strikerless style of football, not to look at actual tactical mistakes or short-comings. So basically it’s an FM article in which I highlight the type of players you need with a bit of a Liverpool sauce to make it more relevant.
Kicking down an open door; cutting your losses
Liverpool have far more creative attacking midfielders at their disposal than they do trusted strikers (Raheem Sterling, Lazar Markovic, Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho) all of whom can link up to create opportunities, rather than relying on Mario Balotelli/Rickie Lambert/Fabio Borini, who could be marked out of the game by a central defender. As an opposing defence won’t have a centre-forward to mark, Liverpool’s midfield runners could well cause indecision at the back, either dragging a defender out of position for another player to run into, or leading the defence to stand off them, meaning there’s a chance to shoot at goal or pick out a deadly pass. Such a tactic would also mean Liverpool have an extra body in midfield to press the opposition off the ball, so it would help defensively as well aiding in ball retention.
Such a change in strategy means writing off the investment in Balotelli and Lambert however. Before changing to a strikerless formation, you have to consider this factor. The value of your actual strikers will drop, it will drop quite dramatically since these players will generally see little or no action. You can re-train your strikers, but that will take time and patience and could lead to conflicts either way. Once again, when you are willing to go strikerless, you have to be willing to cut your losses economically as well.
Primary attributes; position-wise
When looking at the kind of players you need to succesfully implement a strikerless style, we have to look at the roles players have to fulfill in a strikerless formation. What we’re looking for are mobile and versatile player-role to suit the pillars of strikerless football I have described in an earlier post.
The sweeper keeper
You need a goalkeeper willing and able to play the ball with his feet and even venture outside his penalty area if needed. Your defence tends to push up quite high so your goalkeeper is acting as an extra defender behind them to clear through balls. Mignolet isn’t that comfortable with his passes, but
The wingbacks have to bomb forward to provide some much-needed width, as well as providing some defensive cover on the wing. However, his main role will be to attack down the flanks. Moreno and Johnson should be able to play in this role, but they need a strong defence and defensive presence in midfield to really excel.
Preferably fast, but overal just solid. Lovren and Skrtel will do fine, even though they are not that fast or impressive. They are solid without being spectacular, which is just fine, since you’re not expecting them to play killer passes or do anything but take out the opposing strikers.
A bit of a hybrid player here. On the one hand, he is expected to deputise defensively and help out the two central defenders, on the other hand he’s the pivot linking defence to midfield. He’s responsible for protecting the back four, as well as helping to build the first attacks. Basically, he is Lucas Leiva. He’s not required to be super-mobile, he just has to be able to pick a pass and hold his position defensively. So in short, not Gerrard, but Lucas. No weird runs forward or bizarre 40 yard passes, just composed and clean passes and holding his position.
The most versatile player, he’s expected to contribute both defensively and offensively. In terms of Liverpool, probably Jordan Henderson. Because of the mobility, NOT Steven Gerrard.
In its basic nature, it’s the idea of playing a competent dribbler in central midfield, who can beat players and get to the byline to cross or play a through-ball. In terms of Liverpool, again, this is NOT Steven Gerrard’s role for the team. I envisage a Philippe Coutinho or Emre Can in this position.
Basically the pivot upfront, the key player who dictates play and makes the magic happen. Raheem Sterling would be ideal for the role. Just give him the ball and make sure there is plenty of movement around him so he can pass the ball if needed.
The runners from deep, trying to get in behind the defensive line to create havoc and form an outlet for the Central Winger and the Enganche. I envisage Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic to play here. You need players who work hard and are willing and able to take on and beat an opponent.
Secondary attributes; universality
Besides the obvious requirements per position, there are the secondary attributes I like to see in my players, in an effort to create a sort of team spirit. Most of these attributes are supposed to supplement the strikerless pillars. These attributes are sometimes part of the role requirements for a player, but definitely attributes I look out for regardless of position. Most of these are mental attributes.
Aggression – How combative is this player?
If you are looking for an energetic and forceful player, willing to impose his will upon a match, you want a player with high aggression as a low attribute results in a docile and unassertive player. Aggression is not the same as violence, though the two can go hand-in-hand.
Anticipation – Can this player accurately predict the movement of other players?
When you have a tactic heavily reliant on players moving all over the place, you want players who can read the game, predict who moves where and when.
Composure – Can this player perform under pressure?
Pressure means pressure from opposition players, but also pressure to score or pass in an important moment. Can he keep his cool in difficult situations? With players always moving and in tight spaces, you’re going to need players who can keep their nerves under control.
Decisions – Can this player make the right decisions?
For me, this is one of the most important attributes in the game. A player is constantly presented with options, this attribute determines if the player chooses the best option. It also controls how and when an option is performed, in conjunction with attributes like creativity and technique.
Stamina – Decides the rate of decline of the players condition
The higher this attribute is, the longer a player can keep going without getting tired. It’s fully connected to the match condition of the player. All the constant moving takes a lot out of your players, so you’re going to need fit players.
Teamwork – Can this player set his own ego aside to benefit the team?
Players with a low value for teamwork are players who will put their own best interest before that of the team, whereas a high attribute means the player would base decisions on what is best for the team, not what is best for himself. Since I use a Very Fluid tactical setting and want my team to function as a cohesive unit, I want players with high teamwork ratings.
Technique – What can this player do in terms of technique?
The easiest way to describe technique is that it controls the width of the player’s technical range. The higher the attribute, the more the player can actually do with the ball. Since players in a strikerless formation have to work in tight spaces and in a high tempo, a decent rating for technique is a welcome bonus.
Work Rate – How active is this player?
Players with a low value for work rate would rather not spend too much time in off the ball decisions, which basically means they’re just lazy and only start moving when they have the ball or are involved in a phase of play. Players with a high value for work rate will make themselves available and involve themselves in play as much as possible, which suits our ultra-aggressive, hard-working and mobile style of play far more.