The Reds’ striker and England star has been ruled out for up to 8 weeks with an ankle injury suffered in training. Manager Brendan Rodgers must now prepare for a tough festive schedule without one half of his SAS partnership that has been so dangerous so far this season.
The boss told the BBC in his post-match interview on Sunday that Liverpool will ‘make do’ in the six to eight weeks the 24-year-old centre forward is sidelined but how will they do it?
Last season, before the January arrival of Sturridge from Chelsea, Liverpool were making do without him – they had Luis Suarez firing on all cylinders but, crucially, by this point last term, after 13 games played, the Reds were in the bottom half of the table, 11th place on 16 points and 14 points off the leaders Manchester United.
By March, following the arrival of both Sturridge and Coutinho in the January transfer window, the Reds were up into 7th, 7 points off the top four. By the final day of the season in May, they were still 7th.
This season has been a completely different set of circumstances that has seen them 2nd place for the last couple of months – they have been flying high on the back of a strong start – their strongest in years – to the season. Sturridge has scored 11 goals in all competitions, 9 in the league with Suarez on 12 in total and 9 in the league also.
The omnipresent captain, Steven Gerrard has 3 goals so far with Martin Skrtel, Coutinho and Victor Moses each with one. The reliance of the front pair will be something of a concern to Rodgers. The likes of Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson in midfield will need to up their game to try and get in the box in those positions a little more to take the burden off the forwards whilst more responsibility will likely fall on the skipper to do what he does.
I personally believe the wide players will be the most decisive influences on whether Liverpool can make it through the rain without Sturridge. Raheem Sterling, Luis Alberto, Victor Moses especially on the flanks, as well as Iago Aspas and Coutinho in more central areas in the channels will need to up the ante and bust a gut to get on the score sheet.
Suarez is obviously going to carry the most substantial portion of the goal burden and, luckily, there is not another man in the league you would trust to fulfill that obligation more readily. Moses could be a big player over this period on the way into the New Year and I feel that Coutinho will be probably the most important player after Suarez.
Where Suarez and Sturridge’s SAS partnership has been so effective and efficient, a CAS partnership could now foster a renewed and regenerated danger without Sturridge. If Suarez moves into a lone centre-forward role, Coutinho can function in behind as the Number 10 in a packed midfield.
If I were Rodgers, which I’m not, I would be packing the midfield to compensate – that 4-5-1 system that is a 4-3-3 in disguise will be most potent with Suarez as the focal point. That will give the wide players more impetus to get into advanced positions, and with Lucas and Henderson, Gerrard and Allen in central areas there is still functional protection of the backline without cutting back on attacking ambition.
However, as was apparent on Sunday at Hull, that 4-3-3 leaves Liverpool exposed to the counter attack and a 4-5-1 limits their attacking ambition somewhat. If Suarez can be relied up to finish off whatever the players behind him set up then I think the focus, without Sturridge, has to be on chance creation as much, if not more so, that chance completion.
Rodgers can trust Suarez to do that but he needs to have faith in the midfielders and wingers to contribute more creatively to avoid a situation where Suarez is all over the pitch, coming deep to affect the build up, getting draw out wide to find the ball and taking on three defenders to get his shot away. He can do it but it’ll knacker him out.
He needs to be given the service he requires to score enough goals to cover the Sturridge deficit and, meanwhile, Liverpool have conceded on average, in the league, 1.2 goals per game which isn’t too bad but keeper clean sheets is going to relieve the responsibility to score goals.
Liverpool can pick up just as many points with solid defending (team defending, not just the back four) as they can with team attacking. The responsibility for scoring and creating goals cannot rest solely on the shoulders of Luis Suarez just as the responsibility for avoiding conceding goals cannot rest solely on the back five.
Suarez should be considered the first line on defence as much as the centre-backs should be considered attacking outlets through, for example, set pieces. Rodgers said he’s got an ‘honest’ group of players and I’d say he’s right but they are going to have to be more than honest without Daniel Sturridge because without him, there is nowhere for them to hide.
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