Liverpool have started the season in tremendous form, picking up 20 points from the 27 available this season. This is double the amount they had accumulated at this point last season. A lot of this is to be attributed to the goalscoring ‘SAS’ of Suarez and Sturridge, but also, due to the nature of the 3-5-2 line-up that Rodgers has deployed in recent weeks, the wing backs have to be praised. Their job is unique yet extremely vital to the success of this formation.The wing backs have the job of 2 men in a more conventional 4-4-2/4-2-3-1, they are to cover the flanks effectively while providing width when attacking. Johnson and Cissokho seem to be the preferred wing backs for Rodgers to start while Enrique, Sterling and Henderson have all been asked to play there this season.
Defensively, the wing backs are required to win tackles and ground duels primarily. This is to nullify the opposition’s wingers. They are not required to win as many headers as a normal full back because of the 3 centre backs. I believe that the reason why Cissokho and Johnson are preferred in this position is because of this. Defensively they are the most stable pair. Johnson has been solid defensively in both games since his return from injury.
He won 60% of his ground duels against Newcastle and 80% against West Brom at the weekend. He has also won a reasonable amount of tackles since his return, completing 3 out of 5. Cissokho, a loanee from Valencia, has also impressed defensively. In his 111 minutes of game time he has completed 6 tackles and 11 successful ground duels at completion rates of 75% and 63% respectively. Both have been winning ground duels and tackles frequently. Johnson has won a GD every 13.64 minutes with Cissokho doing slightly better at 1 every 11.1 minutes.
Everyone that has played as a wing back for Liverpool, bar Cissokho (77%), has maintained a pass accuracy of at least 80% (Note even Enrique has upped his pass accuracy to 80%). The trend seems to be that they are attempting 40 passes a game. The direction of these passes seems to vary greatly depending upon the personnel. Cissokho’s poor passing accuracy may be due to the fact he’s so direct. He passes forward more often than Johnson who has a tendency to look behind himself more. Enrique directs more passes forward than either of them (38%) which shows how attack minded Enrique has become at Liverpool in the new system.
Each game they have played using the 3-5-2 formation this season has seen them pump around 20 crosses into the box albeit with a low completion rate of around 18%. Despite the low completion rate this is still an improvement upon the league low of 14.52% the reds produced last season. In the 4 games in the 3-5-2 formation, 16 chances have been created by the wing backs, a rate of 4 per game. This furthers the aforementioned point regarding their need to provide width and create from the flanks.
From Liverpool’s 11 goal assists this season, three of them have come from full back (Enrique 2, Cissokho 1). This matches the three from Suarez (1) and Sturridge (2) which shows the full back position is as production in creating goals as Liverpool’s front two.
Rodgers identified the problems Liverpool, as a whole, have with crossing and reduced the number of players on the flanks by playing to their strengths and adding a striker. If the wing backs perform in the areas I have highlighted as the most important for them, then the 3-5-2 will be able to fulfil its potential. If not, teams with good wingers and full backs such as a healthy Arsenal or Tottenham will be able to exploit that. All things considered I believe Liverpool are on course for their first taste of Champions League football since 2009/10.