Last night, in the game at Stamford Bridge, Liverpool started with a formation that could have been described as a 4-2-4. While Cody Gakpo ultimately played in midfield, to make it a more conventional 4-3-3, he is ultimately a forward who was playing there, and made Liverpool vulnerable down the left side for the duration of the first half.
This wasn’t the first time Liverpool lined up in a 4-2-4 without an obvious holding midfielder. For a while during the title chase of 2013-14, Liverpool lined up broadly similarly, with Gerrard and Henderson in central midfield, and Sterling, Sturridge, Suarez and Coutinho forming a front four.
And the thing that characterised a lot of games in that title chase was Liverpool’s fast starts. I remember this game against Arsenal (I wasn’t watching) when Liverpool went 4-0 or something up very very quickly. That was emblematic of that half season – very very quick starts, lots of goals up front, and then quickly tiring and having to hold on for dear life in the end of the game.
When Liverpool failed to score early, like they did in the game against Chelsea (when Gerrard famously slipped, and when Salah started for Chelsea), they would get immensely frustrated and look short of ideas. It was very different to recent years when Liverpool have been able to conjure up last minute equalisers and winnres.
Anyway, yesterday seemed like 2013-14 again. Liverpool was clearly the better team in the first half hour, only a very tight offside prevented the game from going 2-0. The profusion of forwards, and Alexis Mac Allister pinging balls to all parts of the frontline, meant that Liverpool dominated.
Then the inevitable happened – Chelsea settled. Their midfield three got working and soon Liverpool were massively overrun in midfield. Chelsea quickly got one back, almost got one more, and dominated most of the rest of the game (until Liverpool took of Salah and Diaz for a pair of kids).
The thing with the 4-2-4 is that it is an unusual and incredibly attacking formation. The opposition will inevitably take time to settle down against it and figure out how to deal with it. And in that time, the attacking team needs to make merry and score as much as they can (Liverpool only got one).
Once the opposition settles down, the shortage of personnel in midfield can be quickly exploited and the opposition starts dominating the game.
As I was watching, I was reminded of the Age of Empires (2; the conquerors expansion) which I used to play back in college. There, you can select the civilisation you want to play as (sometimes it’s “random”). A few people used to prefer to play as Huns.
The thing with Huns is that they don’t need to build houses (they are nomadic), and so can grow very quickly very fast. And in an AoE game, if you are playing as the Huns, the only strategy is to attack quickly and cause enough damage to the opposition in the opening stages of the game that they can’t recover after that. Because once the opposition has settled down, the Huns’ speed advantage has lost its bite.
And so, playing a 4-2-4 in football is similar to playing as the Huns in AoE. You better make a good start and inflict enough damage on the opposition in the early stages so that they aren’t able to sufficiently damage you back after they’ve inevitably settled down.
Connecting these two topics – I heard on commentary last night that Liverpool has never won a game where a Hungarian has represented them. That trend continues after last night. Hopefully Dominik Szoboszlai can make amends soon.