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No Liverpool fan can say for sure who Jurgen Klopp is going to pick up top right now, and this has been an issue for Liverpool ever since Luis Suarez left the club.
In reality though, after looking at the players who’ve started our best performances, the forwards should pick themselves.
Klopp’s consistently used a 4-3-3 or a variation of it, which means one centre-forward and two freer, more flexible playmakers either side. (These two can become inside-forwards, wingers, no.10s, or anything really – depending on what the game demands.) Klopp tried two up top against Southampton with Sturridge and Origi, but with Lallana behind them, it was still a flexible front-three.
While deploying three attackers has been a constant, the names have changed every game, with the German still coming to terms with English football’s hectic schedule.
Even when Daniel Sturridge has been available, the boss could select either the Englishman, Christian Benteke, Divock Origi or Roberto Firmino as the focal point – and all four have started at no.9 under Klopp.
Among fans, there’s no argument as to the first-choice Liverpool striker in an ideal world. Sturridge is a class apart from the rest of our forwards when fit, as displayed by the four goals he’s scored in four 2015/16 starts. But the fact he’s made just the four starts is sadly the more telling statistic. Sturridge simply cannot be relied upon, and his availability should be considered a luxury and not an eventuality. Liverpool need first-choice plans that don’t include Sturridge. We can’t wait any longer.
And in £32.5m summer signing Christian Benteke, Liverpool have the obvious but incorrect choice waiting in the wings. The giant Belgian’s our joint top scorer with five goals and is the second most expensive player in our history – but Klopp should use him on the bench and instead go with the front-three that’s seen Liverpool play our best football under Klopp:
Roberto Firmino at false-9, with Coutinho and Adam Lallana dovetailing behind him.
Our two best performances of the season have come against Chelsea and Manchester away, and in both these matches the above trio has started. Liverpool were not just good, we were sensational. Klopp’s men, with these three interchanging attackers, swarmed the Premier League champions at Stamford Bridge before ripping City apart at the Etihad. In fact, the first-half v City, in which Firmino, Coutinho and Lallana combined mesmerically and bagged three goals, included one of the best 30 minutes of football Liverpool have played in the Premier League era. It was that good.
But just as it had clicked, Klopp was forced change things up, with Coutinho pulling his hamstring against the Sky Blues and missing our next four fixtures.
Without his Brazilian partner in crime, and switched to attacking midfield instead of false-9, Firmino’s lumbered. Badly. The £29m summer signing proved his talent and potential at the Etihad, but has been nothing short of woeful since, and was fairly dropped for the Anfield draw to West Brom on Sunday.
After succeeding in a certain role though, Firmino probably shouldn’t have been moved. Despite his record in Germany from the position, he’s flattered to deceive as a playmaker, but shone at false-9. Klopp’s used him in this position just twice – Liverpool scored seven goals in those two games with Coutinho and Lallana behind him.
But why then have we only see the ‘LFC’ (Lallana, Coutinho, Firmino) on two occasions…? Coutinho’s injury obviously explains some of its absence, but Klopp changed after the Chelsea win as well, bringing Benteke back into the starting XI. We lost that game 2-1 at home to Crystal Palace.
Against Watford, Liverpool need to revert to the attackers who’ve so far bore us the most collective fruit under Klopp. Coutinho and Firmino enhance each other, while Lallana’s intricacy and pressing complements the pair brilliantly. The evidence is clear. The trio tore Chelsea and City apart and need to be given the chance to wreak havoc again, despite Firmino’s poor form in Coutinho’s absence, and despite Benteke’s price-tag.
Benteke and Jordon Ibe provide fantastic options from the bench, and at in-form Watford on Sunday, this is where they should start – enabling our most technically gifted, creative attackers more time together on the pitch. Divock Origi does as well, as shown by his injury-time equaliser at the weekend.
The busy festive period means we can’t go with ‘The LFC‘ every time, of course. Benteke, Origi, Ibe and hopefully Sturridge will get their opportunities – but it’s important to have consistency in attack. A starting XI of Mignolet; Clyne, Sakho, Skrtel, Moreno; Lucas, Can, Henderson; Coutinho, Lallana, Firmino looks very exciting.
When, or perhaps if Sturridge returns to health, we can reopen the debate. But until then, Firmino must start centrally ahead of Benteke – whose lack of pace and movement stifles his team-mates. Coutinho and Lallana need clever runs, one-twos, flicks and a creative spark. Firmino, however poor he’s been recently, provides them. Benteke does not.