In a carbon copy of last week’s first leg against Chelsea, Liverpool have once again put in a decent performance but been unable to capitalise on it with the necessary goals. Our need for a striker is clear, but I don’t think we can rely on the return of Daniel Sturridge to instantly solve all of our problems.
Liverpool started the season unable to consistently hit the back of the net, while also letting too many goals leak at the other end, and generally looking unable to dominate a game. With a fair bit of tinkering and experimenting, Brendan Rodgers has been able to rectify the latter two problems, for the time being at least. The switch to the 3-4-3 formation has allowed us to get our best performers out there on the pitch together, and they have thrived and confidence has been regained.
But it says a lot that our best eleven this season consists of a front three of Steven Gerrard, Philippe Coutihno, and Raheem Sterling, all players who were here last season when Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge were dominating the score charts. Those two have been taken out of the team, and all of the responsibility has now been put on those three players who last year were providing the support for the match-winners instead of being them. That’s a big burden to take for two young players who weren’t anywhere near the figures that SAS hit last term, and an aging Steven Gerrard who’s goals now mainly come from set pieces.
Getting a proven goal scorer into this team will be a big boost for us, but we may be in danger of being too reliant on the comeback of our number 15. Having Sturridge instead of Sterling leading the line will give us that focal point in attack for the others to play off, not to mention the mental boost that will come with knowing we have a striker who only needs half a chance to get a goal. Even if it takes Sturridge a good few games to get back to his best, his presence may be enough to put fear in our opponents.
Last night though, good chances fell to Moreno, Henderson, and Coutinho, while Gerrard, Sterling, Balotelli, and Lambert also had shots they should have done better with. Simply having Daniel Sturridge back in the team won’t suddenly mean that every single chance falls to him, and we need our other players to step up as well if we’re going to get the goals to go with our dominance. Courtois made a few good saves, but we missed the target with a couple of opportunities too, and they could have been the ones that hit the back of the net. Henderson’s header in particular was a sitter, and if he is to be our next captain, we need to see better from him in those critical moments in which games are won and lost. He offers his fair share to the way the team plays, no doubt about that. But a Liverpool captain, or vice-captain as he is now, needs to have that influence in match-winning moments.
It was the same story against Bolton in the FA Cup. The keeper did pull off some brilliant saves, but truly special players have that knack of making a shot un-saveable, be it through power, precision, trickery, guile, or improvisation. Sterling has been the player most frequently stepping up to the plate for us, but there’s only so much we can rely on a 20 year old not renowned for his goal scoring. The likes of Coutinho, Markovic, and Moreno have chipped in with a couple of goals each, but their moments have been few and far between. As these players mature, it’s vital they develop that emphatic tendency to ensure they become players who can win us games as well as do their bit for our all-round play.
Confidence, mentality, mind-set, and being able to make the opposition worry, are massive things in football. We can dominate as many games as we want, but if the goals aren’t flowing there’ll always be a nervousness to our play, and on the other side of the coin, a belief in the opposition that they can beat us with just one or two chances. We need players on the pitch that instil the idea that, like last season, we can get goals from anywhere on the pitch. Having Sturridge back won’t mean a lot if it simply becomes a case of ‘stop Sturridge and you stop Liverpool’.
We need every one of our lads to be prepared if that big chance to win a game falls to them. No shirked responsibility or passing the book; top players get you goals, and goals win you games. Add that ruthlessness to our performances and we can swiftly turn these narrow margins in our favour.
By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)