Just as Liverpool played hardball with Manchester City for Raheem Sterling, Aston Villa have dug their heels in with Christian Benteke. And, like the Citizens, the Reds have relented to, reportedly, trigger the £32.5m release clause in his Villa Park contract, thus removing the Midlanders’ desire to keep him from the equation.
The move now appears to be a formality, with much of the Sterling fee about to be wired to the Villans, and the Belgian’s arrival will give Brendan Rodgers another option up top. With Benteke seemingly a major target for the Northern Irishman, he’s surely put some thought into how to deploy the 6ft. 3” forward, and there really are plenty of potential systems, formations and tactical tweaks he could utilise… with that in mind, here are FIVE he could be considering.
By far the most likely scenario, Rodgers looks set to deploy a 4-2-3-1 set-up for the 2015/16 season. The Northern Irishman’s set-up may sway slightly towards a more attacking 4-3-3 given that he rarely deploys a ridged formation, and the most obvious role for Benteke is as the focal point of the attack.
Last term with Mario Balotelli in the position the Reds lacked any real flow when going forward, so, although the Belgian is a more willing runner, support will need to be close to him to prevent the 24-year-old from growing isolated. With the likes of Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and James Milner likely to be the more advanced of the midfielders, they will be required to make darting runs beyond the striker, which could work well given that all three are intelligent players with decent levels of pace.
Daniel Sturridge’s eventual return poses questions, though…
Perhaps the most exciting of the possibilities, a 4-4-2 with Sturridge and Benteke up top would promise goals. The duo appear to have the characteristics to form a lethal strikeforce, with the Englishman’s pace in behind likely to open up space for the Belgian, and the combination of the two differing threats will be difficult to nullify for opposing defenders.
Sturridge’s fitness issues mean that the regularity of playing the two could be an issue for Rodgers, but with Divock Origi and Danny Ings also around, there are alternative options. The set-up with a narrow midfield diamond may limit wide players, such as Jordan Ibe and Lazar Markovic, with the system’s width coming from the full-backs.
Despite the problems, Rodgers’ best football of his Reds tenure has, arguably, come with the formation in action, and the Northern Irishman’s decision to deploy it in the first half of the pre-season win over the Thailand All Stars suggests it remains in his thinking.
Rodgers’ Swansea used a fluid 4-3-3 set-up, which seems to be the Kop chief’s favoured set-up. Although Benteke is not a nimble forward able to drift into wide positions effectively, he’s more mobile than many have given him credit for, so there’s every chance he could thrive if the wide pair, likely to be Coutinho and Firmino operate as inside forwards – thus getting close to the big target man.
The only problem with the system is that it can easily revert to a 4-5-1 when the pressure is on, and such a shift will leave Benteke isolated
With Firmino also in, there’s a chance that the two newbies, presuming Benteke does sign, could line up as a pairing. The Brazilian is more adept in a slightly reserved attacking role, so he would, likely, float in behind the big Belgian and look to link with him on the deck and profit from his hold up play.
Such a set-up would, however, force Coutinho into a wider role and limit Rodgers’ central midfield options, with Jordan Henderson, Emre Can, Milner and Lucas Leiva all vying for two slots. Sturridge’s return could also be a problem, as there is not really a viable position for him in this system, other than Benteke’s.
Liverpool’s 2014/15 season was saved from the verge of collapse by the alternation to a 3-4-3 system. Although opponents eventually worked out how to nullify the Reds’ threat, Benteke could offer a more dangerous focal point than Raheem Sterling – a winger being used up top.
The Belgian would be ahead of a Coutinho and Firmino (well, probably), and the Brazilian pair are just the sort of players to thrive in the space Benteke would create with his power and presence. The likes of Adam Lallana and Markovic could also slot in, but the major drawback would be at wing-back, with Nathaniel Clyne much more comfortable as an orthodox full-back.