In the first episode of the Anfield Index Analytics podcast (which I took part in, and you can listen to here), I mentioned that Liverpool have recently had a phenomenal record when starting matches with a diamond in midfield: seven wins and one draw from eight matches.
I was even more intrigued in the formation’s possibilities when I saw this tweet on Monday:
On the same day as the above tweet, England triumphed 2-0 in Switzerland by employing a diamond formation too, so it definitely seems to be the strategy du jour right now.
I thought it would be interesting to see what formations teams used the diamond against in 2013/14, to see if there was any pattern to its use. It’s important to note here that the formation info is sourced via WhoScored (via Opta), so it only reflects the start of a match and no in-game alterations are accounted for. Here are the diamond’s results from best to worst in the 2013/14 Premier League.
I find it interesting that the diamond has been used in victories against all manner of different formations, and it hasn’t been frequently employed to combat one specific set up, though of course you could question if there’s really much difference between a 4-4-2 and a 4-4-1-1, say. I also like how Liverpool were able to defeat a diamond as well as prosper with it, albeit against limited opposition.
On the aforementioned podcast, we pondered how Liverpool’s stats when playing with the diamond differed to when they did not. Here are a few key stats for the forty-one league matches since the start of 2013/14, on a per game basis.
We clearly have to allow for the small sample size with the diamond formation, but the trend appears to be for fairly significant gains defensively whilst also broadly holding firm (or even making minor improvements) offensively.
To use a Rafa Benitez-ism, Liverpool’s blanket appears to cover the bed more wholly when employing the 1-2-1 in midfield; the big chance difference is 2.0 compared to 1.7, and the shots on target difference is 3.8 verses 2.5.
As a long-term fan of shots on target ratio (SoTR), which is the percentage of the shots on target in a team’s matches that they themselves take, I find it very interesting that Liverpool have a SoTR of 69.7% when using a diamond midfield, compared with 61.2% with all other formations.
This discovery is fascinating for two reasons:
- The last six league champions have had an average shots on target ratio between them of 65.7%, which illustrates how effective the Reds have been when using a diamond formation; and
- The only team to post a better SoTR than 69.7% across a whole season in the period from 2008/09 onwards is Carlo Ancelotti’s championship winning Chelsea side of 2009/10.
The latter of the two facts here is the key, as of the big teams in England, that particular Chelsea vintage is the only one to use a diamond formation more frequently than Liverpool did last season, lining up that way on fourteen occasions.
I sadly don’t have a breakdown of their shots on target ratio for when they did and didn’t employ a midfield diamond, but as they used it in just over one-third of their games, it must have played a fairly important part in them posting a record figure for SoTR.
The only other top team to use the formation more than once in the Premier League during the last six seasons is the Tottenham Hotspur side of 2009/10, and again it played a small but significant part in their success.
Spurs won five and lost one of the six games where they started with a diamond midfield, meaning they took 2.50 points per game from these fixtures. Their other thirty-two games yielded 1.72 points on average; sixty-five when extrapolated across a full season, and not enough for a top four finish. They might have won their ‘diamond’ games regardless for all I know, but it certainly did them no harm.
To finish on Liverpool, it’s remarkable to note that the only other league game between August 2009 and when Brendan Rodgers took over that featured a diamond formation saw the Reds trounce Birmingham City 5-0.
The samples here are all small, so it would be wrong to draw anything concrete from the findings, but equally it has to be noted just how well a variety of teams have played with this type of midfield. With Liverpool able to field two top strikers (Sturridge’s fitness notwithstanding) it wouldn’t surprise me if we see a diamond again at Anfield before long this season.