We’ve written here more than once about how we actually like the evolution of Liverpool’s numbering system from the 1970s on, even though we probably shouldn’t.
Steve Nicol’s versatility, and ownership of the number 4, often led to even more lopsided defences, though – and here’s a confession we’d normally only make after about eight pints – a back four of 8-2-6-3 actually has a perverse kind of balance to it, if looking at it in singularity and remaining in denial about how 4 and 5 would then have to inhabit the same midfield.
At least there was a logic to that. On first glance, this example from the 1992-93 game at home to Arsenal would seem to be just a follow-on from that, bar the fact that Rob Jones had by this stage restored number 2 to right-back, with Nicol now more often seen at centre-back.
It’s hard to make out in the formation image, but the defence is 2-6-8-3, with a midfield three of 11-5-4 and wingers 9 and 10 flanking 7 at centre-forward.
It’s hardly all that noteworthy for a Liverpool line-up, except when you take into account the team which began the previous game, a win at home to Sheffield United (image taken from the wonderful LFC History):
As you can see, there were two changes in personnel between that and the Arsenal game (a 2-0 loss live on Sky Sports, incidentally, meaning that the Reds lost two of the first three Super Sundays) – Nicol and Paul Stewart replaced by Tanner and Jan Molby.
There were two numbers free, 4 and 8. Logically, Tanner would have taken Nicol’s 4 as he came into the defence for him with 8 suiting Molby, but they went the opposite way instead. It’s not even as if Molby had some kind of affection for 4 – it generally wasn’t a midfielder’s number at Anfield and he had only had it three times before then. He wore 3, 5, 6, 8, 10 and 11 on more occasions.
The next game after Arsenal was a 2-2 draw with Ipswich Town, with Stewart coming back into the team along with Steve Harkness as Tanner and Michael Thomas missed out.
Stewart was restored to 8, but there was a chain reaction with the other switch – Harkness took 4 and Molby moved from 4 to 10, forcing Mark Walters to go from 10 to 11.
Incidentally, Liverpool finished sixth that season, losing 15 league games.