Jordan Chamberlain – Editor of Empire of The Kop – @Jordan_AC90
Liverpool fans have learnt not to get too excited about Daniel Sturridge regaining fitness, but this time, it seems it might be for real.
While reports (such as here in the Mirror) that suggest he’ll be in the side for the Manchester United game on September 12 seem a little optimistic, it does appear that the forward’s problems with his chronic hip have been dealt with through continued and intensive rehabilitation.
Some fans have actually disregarded Sturridge as an option for Liverpool this term due to the continued and almost predictable recurring injuries – but it’s important to remember that when fit, he’s approaching the world-class bracket.
It’s easy to wax lyrical about Luis Suarez’s final season in England, but he wouldn’t have reached otherworldly heights had our 25-year-old Englishman not been dovetailing him brilliantly. Remember, in Sturridge’s first 18 months at Liverpool – he plundered 31 Premier League goals in 43 matches.
But in many ways Sturridge’s injuries ruined our entire season last time out, and Rodgers knows he cannot afford to be short in the striking department this time around. Mario Balotelli, Rickie Lambert and Fabio Borini provided nowhere near Sturridge’s pace, dynamism and finishing. And as a result, they’ve been shipped or are being shipped out – while £32.5m Christian Benteke and and £29m Roberto Firmino have arrived in their eventual place.
There’s no way £32.5m was spent on the powerful Belgian to be Sturridge’s backup in case of injury, and there’s no way a starting Brazilian international should be a bench option either.
So Brendan Rodgers needs to formulate a way of getting all his best attacking players on the pitch. This is what he did in 2013/14, and it almost won us a title.
Back then, he used a diamond formation to get Sturridge as close to Suarez as possible – and he could use the same formation with a full fit version of the 2015/16 version.
But there’s benefits and drawbacks…
– Firmino is used in his favoured advanced midfield role, and not asked to start wide and cut in as he might be in a 4-3-3.
– Sturridge gets to play as a freer centre-forward with a partner, the role in which he’s scored most of his Liverpool goals.
– Benteke, Sturridge, Coutinho and Firmino (on paper, our best four attackers) are all playing in favoured central positions.
– No natural width makes Jordon Ibe a bench option only, and the selected side lacks his pace.
– The strength of the ‘diamond’ in 2013/14 was the unbelievable pace of the counter-attack, with Raheem Sterling at ’10’, and Luis Suarez happy to tear wide in search of the ball. In Christian Benteke, Liverpool will be playing with a far less mobile forward who won’t come searching for the ball or make space by hugging the flank. And while Firmino adds more goals than Sterling, he doesn’t have the dribbling or straight running speed.
– Benteke, despite the fact he is an all-rounder, is benefitted from wide players who deliver crosses. This formation deprives him of that.
-It lacks a natural deep-lying playmaker, which Steven Gerrard did so brilliantly in 2013/14. We’d have to use Henderson, Lucas or Emre Can in this position – and all lack the former captain’s ability to start attacks quickly with sprayed passes.
But during pre-season Rodgers has used wingers, likely preparing for Benteke’s arrival in either the 4-3-3 or the slightly more attacking 4-2-3-1, which doesn’t include an anchorman but two natural centre-mids.
Hypothetically assuming Benteke stays fit and does well early on (not wishing to curse anything…) Sturridge might have to settle for a place on either side of the front-three.
Although it’s not a natural role for him, many world-class attackers fans would consider as forwards do play this role for their teams. Neymar, Lionel Messi, Edinson Cavani and Cristiano Ronaldo to name but a few.
– The width this formation offers brings our other attacking midfielders into play. Jordon Ibe and Adam Lallana fit seamlessly into this side depending on injuries and rotation.
– It seemingly maximises Benteke, who’s given the uncompromising central striking role he craves, with talented wide attackers flanking him.
-We’re more covered defensively in wide areas, with the wide attackers capable of tracking back and supporting their fullbacks.
– Selecting a natural anchorman alongside Milner and Henderson keeps one or more of our best players off the field – as there’s only three forward spots for Coutinho, Firmino, Sturridge and Benteke (and Ibe and Lallana) assuming Coutinho is pushed forward in this instance. (In fairness, this is a conundrum for Rodgers with the diamond, too.)
– Our best players are not being used in their best positions. Firmino, Sturridge (or even Coutinho if he was asked to play wide in the 4-3-3) crave central roles.
– Sturridge is not a great crosser and would likely be less effective in this position than Ibe. He left Chelsea as a result of being asked to play as a winger.
Naturally, by the time Sturridge is available, injuries, form and seasonal situations will mean Rodgers will likely have plenty more selection issues than merely slotting Daniel Sturridge back in. If Emre Can and Jordon Ibe wow early on, for example, they’ll be in our starting XI ahead of some more established names.
But the return of Sturridge certainly poses Rodgers a dilemma of whether to use him with Benteke or on the flanks. Or perhaps even in place or as a substitute to the Belgian? The options are endless.
Despite the 4-3-3 being honed in pre-season, the diamond seems to maximise Liverpool’s best players. If it isn’t working, we have enough squad options to mix it up and play with the dynamic wingers we actually lacked in 2013/14.
It’ll be mighty interesting to see what Rodgers plumps for.