With only one week remaining before their first match against Sunderland, there is still much debate over the most preferable formation for Liverpool.
Considering the several midfield additions made this summer, along with the many forwards and midfielders already available, there are many feasible options that suit different players and strategies. This article will take a look at the 4-2-3-1 and why it best suits the Reds this season.
Here's my starting XI, assuming no injuries (right to left).
DEF: Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Aurelio
DM: Lucas, Adam
AM: Suarez, Gerrard, Downing
Since Steven Gerrard will miss the first few matches, I would move Suarez to his spot and bring in Dirk Kuyt to play on the right.
First, I'll discuss the holding midfielders. Lucas is the obvious choice as the number one holding midfielder, because the other options are Jay Spearing, who needs more experience, and Christian Poulsen, who isn't any good. Lucas is a good ball distributor and an invaluable defensive presence. His services will be especially needed on the right side of the pitch, considering he'll often have to cover for Glen Johnson after his forward runs.
Charlie Adam makes sense in the left holding-mid spot not because of his defense, but his passing ability. Here he can take up the "Xabi Alonso role" and be a focal point of forward movements with his excellent distribution. Even though he may at times be a defensive liability, the fact the he can provide support to Lucas shielding the back four will prove important.
If Liverpool were to play a 4-3-3 or something similar, Adam would most likely be playing a more forward role, leaving Lucas as the lone shield, which could be a major problem against quick teams that rely on counter-attacking.
Now, on to the attacking mids. Steven Gerrard is the obvious choice to play behind the striker not only because he has played the role with great effectiveness for years, he's better suited to link play between the holding mids and the front line than any other option. Suarez may be able to do the job, but his talents would be better served in a more forward role.
Also, having Gerrard in an intermediate position between the other attackers and the Lucas/Adam combo will eliminate the numerical advantage in the center of the pitch against teams that play with three in central midfield. If Liverpool were to play a 4-4-2 or some similar system, the disadvantage in the center would be disastrous, as gaining meaningful possession would be very difficult.
While Suarez and Downing could play on either wing, Suarez on the right makes more sense because of Glen Johnson at right back. Downing provides natural width on the left and Aurelio (or backups like Martin Kelly) won't make as many meaningful forward runs, whereas on the right, there could be congestion with both Johnson and Downing on the wing.
Suarez would be more inclined to move inside, leaving Johnson plenty of space to move forward, take on defenders, and make crosses.
Up top, Carroll makes the most sense because he provides a huge physical presence and will take advantage of the service from the wings.
On the whole, this system allows for a lot of interplay between the attacking four in the box, as well as the fullbacks should they get forward. It also allows for defensive stability since there are two holding midfielders.
Compared to the most cited alternatives, variations of a 4-3-3 or 4-4-2, the 4-2-3-1 provides a strong presence in the center of the pitch, doesn't leave Lucas out to dry shielding the back four, and plays to the strengths of all the players on the pitch.