Liverpool: Why Brendan Rodgers MUST Drop Philippe Coutinho
I have a confession to make. When Mario Balotelli caressed one home for Liverpool in last night’s game v the Bulgrarian unpronouncables, I rushed to the TV, held it with both hands, and thrusted like a bush pig.
My name is Owen, I’m 36 years old and football makes me lose my s***. That I then half-mooned after the Gerrard goal tells you that I’m probably, on the balance of it, not worth listening to. But what the hell, you’ve imagined me as a pig, a hairy pig with an erection at that, so you may as well carry on, right?
Last night, as it had against Villa, the 4-3-3 didn’t work. The reasons are twofold. You simply can’t play Coutinho as part of a central three and Balotelli will never impress as the lone striker in that formation.
Coming from a deeper role Coutinho is desperate to impress, to force things through gaps that aren’t there, to scoop when it needs simple, to drill when a simple five yard roll will do. It’s not necessarily his fault, but Rodgers is trying to cope for the loss of Suarez by having one too many attacking players on the pitch.
Can you blame him? No. Suarez was two players. The man who scored ridiculous goals and the player who grabbed moribund performances by the scruff and inspired everyone around him.
The second reason it can’t work is Balotelli. I love Mario, I want him to succeed at Liverpool, but he can’t be a lone striker in that formation. It’s no surprise that his best performance, despite really sticking at it last night, came on his debut against Spurs. With him and Sturridge on the pitch defences are forced to worry about both, to track both of them into areas that allows room for Sterling to roam.
When Balotelli is up front on his own, his natural instinct is to come off the centre-halves to try and affect the game. When that leaves two centre halves spare it means the midfielders can track him safe in the knowledge that, no matter what the attacking trimuvirate might do, they’ve essentially got cover.
So it’s a dual disconnect. Coutinho is too far off the play and Balotelli is rendered useless.
Enter another striker, though, as seen when Borini came on and we reverted to the diamond, and it’s a different story. Borini, whether or not you rate him, offers a problem because he’s quick and relentless. The defence have to worry about him which means Balotelli can both roam and only have to occupy one centre-half.
Tactically, there are two upshots of this, and with Allen and Can injured and Lucas doing his best impression of a kindly lesbian auntie who needs a place in a rest home, it means an attacking midfielder has to be sacrificed.
Despite signs of ring rust, I reckon Lallana would do a better job in the 4-3-3 than Coutinho. He’s happier to play it simple and move, something that needs to happen to get he front three clicking on the break. This would mean a front three of Balo, Sterling and one of the central strikers to essentially take the knocks and create space.
The way our full backs operate though, I’d argue for the diamond behind a two. Gerrard holding, Lallana/Markovic and Hendo either side with Sterling in behind and Balo and Lambert or Borini up front depending on how the opposition set up. Low block? Send Lambert out to bully. High line? It’s Borini all day.
This is not to say the 4-3-3 can’t work. It has and can, but without a brain like Allen or a brute like Can, we’re short. Balotelli’s hairdresser could tell you that Gerrard and Hendo can’t be a two, far too much room gets left between them when we attack and teams counter in that space.
It’s still early days and the cohesion will come. But I’ll be worried if we start 4-3-3 away to a rejuvenated West Ham on Saturday evening.
Mignolet (unfortunately), Manquillo, Lovren, Sakho, Moreno, Gerrard, Lallana/Markovic, Henderson, Sterling, Balotelli, Lambert