The 32-year-old forward excelled in his rare start against Crystal Palace, netting Liverpool’s only goal in the 3-1 defeat at Selhurst Park.
His performance in that game - and the continuing bad spell for Mario Balotelli - saw the former Southampton man keep his place against Ludogorets in the Champions League, and he doubled his goal tally for the season by scoring the equaliser against the Bulgarian side. Following two strong performances, he further remained in the starting XI as the Reds kick-started their Premier League campaign with consecutive victories over Stoke City and Leicester City, and, whilst he is a player who many were claiming needed a chance to play if he were to impress, four 90 minute spells in 10 days may be too much for the ageing forward.
Having started just three games prior to the Crystal Palace fixture, Lambert has played more in the last fortnight than he had for the whole season combined, and he looked to be benefitting from the increased confidence in his abilities. The goals scored against Palace and Ludogorets were of a high quality, but he started to decline following those games, struggling against Stoke, before doing almost nothing of note in Leicester.
|Match||Goals||Shots||Key Passes||Aerials Won||Passes||Touches|
|Rickie Lambert||C. Palace vs Liverpool||1||3||0||8||18||37|
|Ludogorets vs Liverpool||1||1||0||6||29||48|
|Liverpool vs Stoke||0||4||1||6||16||42|
|Leicester vs Liverpool||0||0||0||7||20||39|
Against Palace, Lambert put in arguably his strongest attacking performance, scoring one goal from three shots and winning eight aerial duels. Having featured rarely, his performance was very self-centred - as shown by his low tally of just 18 passes - and it was only with continued inclusion that he started to make an impact as a team player. He followed that game with a similarly strong performance against Ludogorets, scoring another goal from just one shot, winning six aerial duels and playing 29 passes from 48 touches. His most all round performance, the return to match fitness in the previous game obviously helped, and his inclusion in the starting XI was well received.
However, he kept his place for a third game and the decline was evident. Although Lambert played a key pass and won six aerial duels, he failed to score a goal from four wasteful shots, and he completed just 16 passes from 42 touches. His performance showed a player who wanted to prove he could turn out at the top level, but a strong work ethic cost him his talent, and the Reds were fortunate to come away with a 1-0 victory.
The signs should have been evident following that game, but still Lambert was resigned to playing a full 90 minutes when named in the starting XI for the tie at the King Power Stadium. No recognised striker on the bench meant that he would have to stay on the pitch regardless, but his performance from the opening minutes suggested that he should not have ever taken to the field. He failed to register a single shot or key pass, and his game became much more static as he failed to move about the pitch. He won seven aerial duels, but his performance was that of a classic target man rather than an attacking outlet, and he touched the ball just 39 times. It was the sending off of Wes Morgan which won Liverpool the tie, rather than any great performance, and changes are needed this weekend, with the Reds hosting Sunderland.
It is not Lambert's fault that his performance suffered with his overuse, and Brendan Rodgers should be well aware that a 32-year-old forward cannot be the main striker of a side with Premier League and Champions League ambitions. Fabio Borini - who has not been declared injured - cannot even get on the bench, and faith in Balotelli seems to be wearing thing, leaving Lambert as the only recognised striker in Liverpool’s matchday squads. Whilst a perfectly competent player, there needs to be serious investment in their squad come the Janaury transfer window, with Daniel Sturridge’s continued absence hurting the team more than many predicted.