Liverpool changed their formation against West Ham United, shifting from the straightforward 4-3-3 that they’ve been playing all season to a 4-1-2-1-2 as Adam Lallana and Daniel Sturridge came back into the side.
But how effective was the diamond? And will we see it again next season?
Tactical switch proves extremely effective
Well the first thing to note is that a 4-0 win is naturally something of a ringing endorsement of the system.
Liverpool played extremely well, with Sturridge a massive catalyst for that up front, and Philippe Coutinho running the midfield as he played in a deeper role on the left of the diamond.
And the 4-4-2 diamond is not the only system that could accommodate Sturridge, nor the only one that could free Coutinho from deep, nevertheless it was important for Liverpool’s win.
The key is the personnel. When Liverpool are missing Sadio Mané, they lack a natural wide player in the side.
Over the last few games, Coutinho and Roberto Firmino have been playing as wide inside-forwards, but their natural games have meant that they’ve dropped inside, leaving the front three very congested, and causing Liverpool real problems in terms of penetration.
Divock Origi was left frustratingly isolated, and there was no joy for the Reds against Southampton.
But by playing Sturridge up front, and switching to the diamond, Liverpool were instantly more penetrative. The England striker is a direct, reasonably quick player, who has fantastic movement, runs in behind and, most importantly, stretches defences.
He’s also the perfect partner for Origi, as both players drastically benefit from having the other in the team. With one able to run in behind or into the channels, whilst the other drops deep to get involved in the play, Sturridge was able to create space for Origi and to an extent vice versa.
With the two up top, the diamond behind them was also effective. Emre Can was as bombastic as ever in the defensive role, which anchored the side brilliantly; Coutinho was a revelation in the centre of the midfield, running the show; and the return of Lallana at the tip of the diamond was vital.
Lallana’s energy and movement are phenomenal. He works the channels really well, he’s a creative presence on the pitch and given a free license to roam gets the best out of him. Even Georginio Wijnaldum was able to come into his own in the second-half, popping up with two assists.
Should Reds stick with the diamond?
But the success of the diamond against West Ham is not an endorsement of the system itself, as there are two massive caveats to be considered.
The first is that defensively West Ham were very poor, conceding poor goals and overall simply not up for the fight. It’s entirely plausible that the same Liverpool XI, with a different formation, could also have steamrolled them.
Not only that but tactically West Ham were unable to expose the inherent flaws of the diamond, as their 3-4-2-1 didn’t give them enough width to expose Liverpool’s lack of it.
The second caveat is that this game was an endorsement of the diamond in a certain situation. A situation where Liverpool were missing two of their first choice front three, arguably the lynchpins of Liverpool’s attacking system.
Without the directness, natural pace and width of Mané, and the pressing and creativity of Firmino in the false nine, Liverpool look an entirely different attacking side, so the change reflects that.
It’s hard to see how either Firmino or Mané would fit into the diamond in the same way as Sturridge or Lallana.
So if we accept that the diamond has a specific function, and that that function is limited, the question of whether or not the club will use it significantly more next season is an odd one.
The truth is that it will probably be used equally as sporadically as it has been in the last couple of seasons. The diamond is an answer to a specific problem: a lack of width.
And that is an issue that will be near the top of Jürgen Klopp’s priority list in the summer transfer window. The 4-3-3 or some variant is likely to remain the default formation next season, so Klopp will look to buy players to shore up that formation, so that Liverpool don’t have to switch to a diamond if they can avoid it.
Nevertheless, it will probably still be used, as it happens to suit a lot of Liverpool's players, as this game has evidenced. The likes of Firmino and Mané won’t be able to play every game, and when the 4-3-3 hits a brick wall against smaller teams playing a low block, then the diamond is a useful option to have.
Overall, this was a case of Klopp going back to the drawing board and utilising the resources available to him as he was missing two (three if you include Jordan Henderson) key players and needed to restructure his attack.
Klopp’s reluctance to use the diamond in the league this season should indicate that it will more than likely remain a peripheral option next season, but nevertheless it remains an option.
More than that, it is a clearly functional option, and Klopp will be aware of its efficiency, if only in certain situations.