Tag Archives: Daniel Sturridge

Time for Liverpool to Rethink How to Manage Steven Gerrard’s Later Years

Two of the defining components of England’s bygone Golden Generation experienced contrasting fortunes in the Premier League last weekend: While Frank Lampard scored a dramatic late equalizer after coming off the bench against old club Chelsea, Steven Gerrard was given the runaround by former Liverpool flop Stewart Downing against West Ham United.

After what has transpired over the last few months—Lampard being released from his contract at Stamford Bridge after 13 glorious seasons and becoming Chelsea’s all-time record goalscorer, and Gerrard being nominated for the Football Writers’ Player of the Year award after his pivotal role in Liverpool’s outstanding season—the contrast couldn’t have been bigger.

While England’s dismal display at the Brazil World Cup ultimately led to two of their greatest-ever midfielders announcing their international retirement later in the summer, it seems that two modern legends of the Premier League era have since embarked on drastically different career paths.

With Frank Lampard adopting a role as a key squad player at Manchester City and making an instant impact in the penalty box on Sunday, and Gerrard finding himself targeted week after week as the deepest-lying playmaker in the Liverpool midfield, perhaps it’s time for the Reds to rethink how they are and should be managing the final years of Steven Gerrard’s career.

 

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Steven Gerrard, the Impact Sub?

We’ve seen this with Ryan Giggs in the previous few years and, increasingly over the past few seasons, with Frank Lampard at Chelsea and now at Manchester City: As players enter the final years of their careers, their game time needs to be managed so they can stay at peak fitness and still remain productive when they do take to the field.

This is especially true for players relying on explosive pace and power to conjure up split-second moments of game-changing magic. While Gerrard has never been the pacy wing wizard Giggs used to be in his prime, the Liverpool skipper made his name with his lung-bursting runs from midfield, barnstorming drives into the penalty area and blockbuster shots from long range.

There’s nothing wrong with Brendan Rodgers pushing Gerrard deeper in the midfield to take up his current deep-lying playmaker position per se; the problem is that at 34 years of age, Gerrard is still completing 90-minute games week in, week out.

And with the Champions League now back in Liverpool’s schedule, that is simply unsustainable.

After a tough win at home against unfancied Bulgarian champions Ludogorets Razgrad in the Champions League, Gerrard’s 90 minutes at Upton Park was unsavory at best, depressing at worst. Compared to leaving his midfield area glaringly vacant for opponents to storm into time and again, getting overrun by Stewart Downing is already a less concerning headline.

Rodgers’ toughest mandate during his time as Liverpool manager arguably isn’t to have gotten the Reds back into the European big time; it was to phase Gerrard out in the right way and to manage the latter stages of his career.

Recent injuries to Joe Allen and Emre Can have forced his hand, but Liverpool fans should reasonably expect to see Gerrard feature more as an impact substitute as the rest of the season unfolds.

Only as an impact substitute, or at least a lessened status as a squad player, will Gerrard’s career really be prolonged, and not hastened towards becoming the main liability in the middle of the park for Liverpool.

 

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Making Use of Gerrard’s Versatility

One factor that should influence Rodgers’ planning and thinking over the next couple of seasons is the fact that he is one of the most complete midfielders to ever have come out of England. In that regard, the likes of Ryan Giggs and Frank Lampard don’t even come close.

It’s one thing to have a skill set comparable to Andrea Pirlo’s (even if his positional discipline and tactical understanding are inferior); it’s quite another to have won the PFA Player of the Year award playing as an unorthodox right-winger, to have struck up a world-class partnership with Fernando Torres as a second striker and to have influenced the biggest stage of all—the Champions League final—as a makeshift right-wing-back.

Now, there is no need for Gerrard to fill in at right-back—Liverpool are comfortably sorted at the moment with Javi Manquillo proving to be an astute acquisition and a number of players capable of assuming the role—and indeed the Reds’ optimal 4-4-2 diamond formation doesn’t allow for a right-winger.

Yet as Rodgers clearly still seems to regard Gerrard as the one “undroppable” player in his team—often substituting his midfield partners when Liverpool are in need of a change in formation or approach, before he takes that drastic step to drop his captain from the starting XI and turn him into an impact substitute—there is another blueprint that he can reference.

There’s no finer example than Roberto Mancini’s favorite tactical switch during his reign at the Etihad Stadium: Sending on a defensive midfielder (often Nigel de Jong), releasing Yaya Toure’s defensive shackles and pushing him forward into a free attacking-midfield role.

That Rodgers doesn’t have a world-class defensive midfielder at his disposal is perhaps down to the fact that he regards Gerrard as his optimal regista sitting at the base of his midfield, with Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen providing protection and help around him. Emre Can’s arrival, however, is interesting and could potentially pose an alternative for the Liverpool manager.

While not a specialist defensive midfielder, Can—who ironically has a skill set most comparable to Yaya Toure’s out of Liverpool’s midfield contingent—has more than enough to offer in terms of steel, physicality, pace and defensive nous. All Rodgers needs to do, when Can returns from injury and if he starts on the bench, is send him on and let Gerrard rekindle his magic with a free-scoring forward.

Only this time it’s Daniel Sturridge.

 

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A Case for Gerrard the Forward

It’s interesting that Rafael Benitez, the manager credited with realizing Gerrard’s potential as a devastating attacker rather than a controlled midfielder, stated during Gerrard’s peak years that he saw him becoming a striker later in his career, according to The Sun (via Emily Benammar in the Telegraph). Rodgers, on the other hand, has suggested he could become a right-sided center back, per BBC Sport.

Both suggestions reflect Gerrard’s universality as the complete modern footballer, to the extent that two managers who have reinvented his game can’t even agree on whether it’s his attacking game or defensive abilities that make him stand out.

But while he has always been known as much for his match-winning piledrivers as he is for his last-ditch tackles and thunderous challenges, Gerrard has always been afforded the freedom to do essentially whatever he wanted, wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted. It’s for this reason he so frequently drove into the box in his heyday to score important goals.

That Gerrard reserves his best performances when a select duo is played as his midfield colleagues—now usually and preferably Henderson and Allen—means that Rodgers needs to tailor the entirety of Liverpool’s approach play to Gerrard by shaping the midfield, and thus forward line, around his strengths and deficiencies.

Without his famous acceleration, pace and power, Gerrard is required, perhaps more so than ever, to sit in front of his defence, command his midfield, control his area and remain positionally disciplined, which is a huge ask of a player who has always turned up to save the day when his team has needed him to.

That sounds all right until he ventures forward at his own will, leaving his area and the defence exposed—while without having the pace or stamina to track back to atone for a positional error.

Slotting Gerrard into a more advanced position akin to his prime might not see him replicate his majestic runs, but it would allow Rodgers to address a badly imbalanced midfield with more steel and defensive presence at the base, while retaining his captain’s famous vision, passing and game-changing shooting ability closer to the opponent’s goal.

After all, Gerrard is arguably the second most natural finisher currently in the first team—behind Daniel Sturridge—while the timing of his arrivals into the box have seen many a late winner, and his heading has long been an underrated facet to his attacking game.

In short, he is one of Liverpool’s few complete attacking weapons.

Moving him forward, playing him selectively and using him wisely in the wider context of the whole Liverpool team would reverse his rapid decline—and who knows, maybe Liverpool fans will be able to start cheering yet another superhuman winner from Steven Gerrard again. It’s been a while since we’ve seen one of those.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Why Fabio Borini Should Be Ahead of Rickie Lambert in Liverpool Pecking Order

For their last two fixtures, Liverpool have turned to another Italian striker for further support up front in the second half. Not Mario Balotelli, but ex-Anfield outcast Fabio Borini.

It’s a considerable turnaround in fortunes for Borini, given that he found himself in limbo after rejecting a last-minute summer move to Queens Park Rangers, according to Chris Bascombe of theTelegraph. Liverpool’s earlier pursuit of Loic Remy and subsequent signing of Balotelli suggested that Brendan Rodgers had other options in mind ahead of Borini, who looked to be on his way out of Anfield.

Yet circumstances have fallen into place for Borini to perhaps salvage a career for himself at Liverpool. Daniel Sturridge’s injury, sustained while on international duty with Roy Hodgson’s England, has forced Rodgers to rely on his bench options.

Liverpool’s first signing of the summer may have been Rickie Lambert, but the current Reds setup almost demands that Borini should move ahead of the local Liverpudlian in the pecking order—and crucially, Rodgers seems to think so as well.

 

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Rickie Lambert, a Poor Man’s Mario Balotelli

When Lambert was recruited from Southampton, where he enjoyed a stellar career and became an England international in the process, it was clear that Rodgers was looking for something different to the Luis Suarez-Daniel Sturridge pairing that was so successful last season.

Lambert brought an interesting combination of strength, aerial prowess, composure and technique to the forward line that the Reds perhaps didn’t have last season, and he would’ve provided a useful outlet who could turn out to be one of the bargains of the offseason.

Rodgers’ highly public pursuit of Loic Remy after Suarez’s departure for Barcelona suggested that he was on the lookout for a striker with pace and direct running who would be useful on the break and alongside Sturridge, and who would further strengthen Lambert’s status in the squad as the go-to bench option up front.

Yet his subsequent chasing of Wilfried Bony—similar in style and mould to Lambert—and the eventual signing of Mario Balotelli has since moved him down the pecking order, as Rodgers now has a better and more established version of Lambert at his disposal.

Sure, Lambert made a difference when he came off the bench in the late win against Southampton on the opening day of the season, but with Balotelli firmly instilled as first-choice at Anfield, things don’t look too good for Lambert.

 

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Fabio Borini’s Strengths as a Sub

And what Fabio Borini brings to the table makes him an ideal option to change things up—not just from Liverpool’s perspective, but against tired legs in the opposition when he comes off the bench in the second half.

Borini’s effervescent running—not many people can realistically argue against his work rate—and excellent attacking positioning makes him a nuisance to deal with from a defensive point of view. In this sense, his effect may be compared to Southampton’s Shane Long, who also doesn’t boast a prolific scoring record but is prized for his contributions to the team up front.

Indeed, what Liverpool have been missing this season is Suarez’s immense work rate from a deeper-lying forward position, as Rodgers looks to continue instilling a similar work ethic into new recruit Balotelli, now tasked with that same role, according to David Maddock of the Mirror.

Borini’s good grasp of positioning and ability to get into the game with his running, regardless of his personal form, means that he gets into good positions to threaten the opposition goal—see his header against Ludogorets that forced goalkeeper Milan Borjan into a fine save not long after he came off the bench—and has the legs to stretch the play and occupy defenders.

Contrast this with Lambert’s more languid style of play: Speed has never been a hallmark of his game, while he relies more on a strong understanding of space to create and finish, rather than being a nuisance to defenders, which is now essential to Rodgers’ blueprint at Anfield.

This makes it hard for Lambert to influence the game just by being on the pitch, especially after coming on as a substitute and requiring time to settle into the rhythm of the game.

 

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Two up Top Is Now Indisputably Liverpool’s Best System

A summer of attacking midfield signings in Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic to add to an already strong collection including Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling hinted at Rodgers’ interest in potentially exploring a 4-2-3-1 system at Anfield, which he has done in the first few weeks of the season.

Yet this was perhaps also an enforced switch, with Sturridge’s injury rendering Balotelli as their only fit senior striker.

Unfortunately, Balotelli still has quite a way to go before he can match Suarez’s effect on the team from a work ethic standpoint, while the lack of penetration ahead of the midfield area has unsurprisingly seen a downturn in Coutinho’s form.

Perhaps Coutinho as the No. 10 works best when there is a Sturridge alongside Balotelli to stretch defences for the Brazilian playmaker to find space to launch his game-changing passes—and perhaps Sterling isn’t quite as cut out to play that off-the-shoulder striker furthest forward as he is as behind a front two.

Lambert’s similarity—or rather lack of a real differentiation in playing style—to Balotelli means that he is much less ideal as a partner for Balotelli rather than a direct replacement. What Balotelli and his team-mates are now crying out for is movement and running up front.

Step up Fabio Borini, who has it in his locker to make a difference. He did enough on loan at Sunderland last season for them to want to take him on a permanent basis this year but has decided to fight for his place at Liverpool.

Now is his chance to prove that he deserves to not only move ahead of Rickie Lambert in the pecking order at Anfield, but to push Rodgers’ first-choice front two for a starting place.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

5 Keys to Success for Liverpool in 2014/15

The hard-fought nature of Liverpool’s 2-1 win over Southampton last Sunday—with Simon Mignolet featuring prominently again—recalled memories of last season’s opening-day victory over Stoke City, which set the foundation for a scintillating Premier League campaign.

This time around, though, the pressure on the Reds is just slightly stronger, the expectations just slightly higher. Manager Brendan Rodgers will be looking to kick his side into gear and rediscover the momentum, form and confidence that saw them win so many plaudits last season.

News that Mario Balotelli may be on his way to Anfield from AC Milan, according to Ben Smith of BBC Sport, would be the icing on the cake for Reds fans, who have seen their team break the £100 million spending mark on eight players this summer transfer window.

If they are to take that next step and win silverware this season, here are five keys to success that Liverpool should keep in mind throughout the campaign.

 

Daniel Sturridge’s Fitness

Daniel Sturridge's Fitness

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There’s no doubt that any move for a striker to strengthen Rodgers’ squad in the closing days of the summer window—whether it is Balotelli or not—would alleviate the massive burden Luis Suarez’s exit placed on Daniel Sturridge’s shoulders.

Yet there’s no escaping the fact that Sturridge will remain pivotal to Liverpool’s fortunes this season, and his fitness is key to him enjoying a successful season.

Sturridge has had his fair share of injury troubles—his early exit from Liverpool’s preseason tour of the United States may well have prompted the Reds hierarchy to look for another first-team striker—and having two top-quality forwards would be a massive boon to the Reds’ fortunes.

One of the Premier League’s best goal scorers when available, Sturridge’s style of play is a perfect fit in Liverpool’s attack, and even as Rodgers looks to make full use of a much larger squad this season, the fitness of his leading man up front may well dictate how their season turns out.

 

A Consistent Back Five

A Consistent Back Five

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For the time being, it seems as though Rodgers has settled on a central defensive duo of Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren; however, the as-yet untried prospect of Lovren on the right and Mamadou Sakho on the left is tantalizing, if it works as it promises to on paper.

With the signings of Javi Manquillo and Alberto Moreno, Rodgers will likely start with them as his first-team full-backs, but now he has a variety of backup options on the flanks as well who will look to compete for a place in the starting XI.

After a season that saw them concede 50 goals—in the end, a defining blemish on an otherwise outstanding campaign—it should be Rodgers’ priority to sort out a leaky defence if they are to sustain their performances from last season, particularly as their rivals have strengthened considerably as well.

That Liverpool have upgraded their defence is unquestionable; the key now is to ensure that there is a consistency in starting places across the back to ensure that they can form a tight, cohesive unit through playing together week in, week out.

 

Making Full Use of Substitutes

Making Full Use of Substitutes

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What’s a bigger squad good for if not for the manager to fully utilize it? Last year’s limited available options had Rodgers often starting with the same XI every week and left him with a dearth of genuine alternatives on the bench when he needed a spark or a game-changer late during a match.

This year, it’s totally different: Every position has competition, and good players will miss out on the 18-man match-day squad entirely from time to time, leaving first-team players with much more motivation to sustain their level of performance.

No longer will Rodgers need to throw debutants into the deep end, like he did with Brad Smith at Stamford Bridge in December, because of a shortage of squad options. He will now be able to call on good impact players from the bench when he needs to.

The Premier League allows each team to make three substitutions each match. For arguably the first time during his tenure at Anfield, Rodgers finally has the tools to take full advantage of this quota.

 

Managing Squad Rotation

Managing Squad Rotation

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Beyond making the right in-game substitutions, Rodgers will need to do something with his squad this season that he hasn’t had to do too much in his previous seasons at Liverpool: choose different starters depending on opposition.

Now blessed with a myriad of options to choose from, he will need to manage his squad rotation policy right so it doesn’t hurt the momentum of players in form, but he can still use them to their full potential and ability when the fixtures start coming thick and fast.

Then there’s the crop of players whose place in the team may be severely threatened by new arrivals: Rodgers will need to be on top of his man-management game to keep the likes of Daniel Agger and Lucas Leiva happy over the course of a hectic season.

Managing squad rotation is something every top-level manager in every top-level team has to get right. This season is a good opportunity to show whether Rodgers is up to that task to bring success to Anfield.

 

Stick to a Set Vision

Stick to a Set Vision

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When it comes to a vision and a blueprint for the game, it’s safe to say that Liverpool fans and players alike can rely on Brendan Rodgers to have an underlying approach to the game that he insists on instilling into his charges.

Still arguably a side in transition and maturation, Liverpool showed signs of pure aesthetic perfection at times last season, yet there were also occasions when their tactical naivety let them down, as they struggled to find a few results when it mattered.

With another year gone by, however, Liverpool should be far more equipped when it comes to adopting and implementing Rodgers’ vision and approach—and it will help that he now has more tactically mature players at his disposal to do just that.

To align themselves with Rodgers’ ideologies, the Liverpool players must stick to the vision that got them to this position in the first place and not abandon it at will when time and results are at stake.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Why Daniel Sturridge Will Continue to Flourish at Liverpool Without Luis Suarez

Since the departure of Luis Suarez to Barcelona was confirmed 10 days ago, the question on the lips of Liverpool fans has been: How can we cope without Suarez’s goals this season?

Which, in reality, translates to: Will Daniel Sturridge be enough to shoulder our goalscoring burdens this season?

With Brendan Rodgers active in the transfer market and securing a number of signings already at Anfield, the obvious lack of a proven goalscorer at the highest level is glaring and often prompts worried discussions.

Yet amid all the nerves and apprehension with which Liverpool fans consider that Suarez is one of the very best players in the world and replacing him is a tall order, there is one thing that they have overlooked.

The current squad-trumps-all setup at Liverpool provides the answer to their most burning question: Yes, Daniel Sturridge will continue to flourish at Liverpool without Luis Suarez.

 

 

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Pace Coursing Through Anfield

A quick glance at Liverpool’s highlights and attacking play from last season shows the stunning number of goals they scored because of the pace coursing through their side.

And while Suarez was an excellent player on the break due to his pace, first touch, close control, creativity and one-on-one ability, not to mention his much-improved finishing under Brendan Rodgers, his departure will not affect the dynamic and quick nature of this Reds side.

Because his departure, in terms of pace, has already been offset (and arguably eclipsed) by the signing of Lazar Markovic from Benfica and the likely arrival of Loic Remy from Queens Park Rangers, as reported by BBC Sport. Both players showed their acceleration—and most of all, their attacking output at pace—with their respective clubs last season (Remy, of course, having spent the campaign on loan at Newcastle United).

Add these two speedsters to the already lightning-quick Raheem Sterling and Jordon Ibe, and this is a side with pace written all over it. Sterling will be looking to further stamp his authority on the Liverpool first team after a stellar first full season, and Ibe will have ample opportunity to make the step up to senior football over preseason.

It’s this speed and acceleration with which the Reds can play that makes Daniel Sturridge so dangerous: Whether he’s supporting a main striker (for the time being, Rickie Lambert) or leading a three-pronged attack himself, his ability to play off the shoulder of the last defender makes him a tough prospect for opponents.

Suarez’s departure has deprived Sturridge of a partner who can reliably and consistently deliver the unpredictable and whose individual talent will occupy more than one defender at a time, but across the forward positions Sturridge has already gained much more he can be working with.

 

 

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All-Rounded Midfielders in Support

Behind Sturridge and his forwards and wingers, the Liverpool midfield has already featured some significant upgrades this offseason, with further additions likely to arrive at Anfield before the transfer window slams shut.

Already Rodgers has added the silky skills of Adam Lallana and the versatility and all-rounded skill set of Emre Can, both of whom will be adding vision, passing and pressing in equal measure to a tactically and positionally intelligent midfield contingent of Philippe Coutinho, Jordan Henderson, Joe Allen and Steven Gerrard.

The maturation of Coutinho from a stereotypical Brazilian No. 10 into a dominant No. 8 capable of bossing the midfield, with a newfound pressing mentality and his trademark flair and passing skills, has been nothing short of impressive. And there has already been enough made of Henderson and Allen’s contributions from both a central and a more advanced position in the midfield.

The potential of Can to become Liverpool’s very own resident box-to-box dynamo is surely mouthwatering to both his colleagues on the pitch and the fans in the stands, as will the prospect of even more seamless transitioning from defence into attack.

All of which will contribute to an overall attacking approach that will be designed to unleash the collective and electric talents of Liverpool’s forwards, and Sturridge is a key part of this exciting system designed to create as many goalscoring chances as possible.

Add the considerable all-round technical ability of Rickie Lambert, whose playmaking skills from centre-forward can be as productive and devastating as his midfield colleagues’, and Sturridge surely stands to benefit even further.

 

 

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Collective Intelligence and Brilliance

Throughout his reign at Anfield, Brendan Rodgers has constantly and consistently championed the importance of the team over any individual, and that message was reinforced loudly and clearly when Liverpool confirmed Suarez’s departure in July.

But those who paid attention to Rodgers’ preparations last season will know that this wasn’t just a statement to appease Reds fans in the wake of a star’s departure; he has constantly set up his team to make the most out of their collective intelligence and brilliance.

Given Suarez’s goals and scintillating match-winning performances last season, this may appear to be a statement in vain, but a clear example of the varied attacking approach that Liverpool have adopted and introduced came last season in the form of set pieces, where they were arguably the most dangerous team across the Premier League.

The team’s movement and awareness is a product of their two years drilled in Rodgers’ system, and their fearlessness and dynamism were on show during their exciting 11-game winning streak from February to April last season, all of which will surely last the distance regardless of Suarez staying or leaving.

What Liverpool have lost is a genius and a maverick capable of breaking scoring records, but what they have potentially gained in return is a hard-to-beat mentality honed by a title challenge last season—with more quality still to be added. Only this time, it’s Daniel Sturridge who stands to benefit at the tip of everything attacking coming out of Liverpool’s half.

If it’s a team working for one another and who knows each other’s moves and contributions inside out that is capable of going places, then as much as Liverpool fans may miss the individual brilliance week in, week out—they will look forward even more to the success that the Suarez-less Reds are capable of.

Germany didn’t seem to mind earlier this summer.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

How Liverpool Can Get New Signing Rickie Lambert to 20 Goals This Season

With Luis Suarez’s departure for Barcelona and Iago Aspas’ likely exit from Anfield, per James Pearce of the Liverpool Echo, as it stands Liverpool’s senior forward options to start the new season are Daniel Sturridge, Fabio Borini and new signing Rickie Lambert.

On paper, a far cry from Suarez and Sturridge’s 52-goal partnership last season, which did more than just prove prolific: Their pace, movement and dynamic creativity struck fear into the hearts of opponents up and down the country.

With Alexis Sanchez, originally a target to be included in Suarez’s deal with Barcelona, having joined Arsenal, Liverpool have missed out on arguably one of their most attainable forward options in the summer transfer window.

Yet as Brendan Rodgers continues his scour for striking talent across the world, all is not lost: In Rickie Lambert, he has a talented, all-round striker who will be giving his all upon a dream return to his boyhood club.

And as the Reds fight on four fronts this season, whether they sign a new first-choice partner for Sturridge or not, Lambert might well have it in him to chip in with 20 goals in all competitions.

Here’s how.

 

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The New SAS

Out goes one half of the famed SAS partnership; in comes another to replace him. Life goes on.

Suarez may be a once-in-a-generation kind of talent, and his performances last season certainly elevated him into the echelon of the greatest players ever to have played for Liverpool, but there was another “S” that blossomed last season, also with Rodgers’ coaching.

That player, of course, is Raheem Sterling, who, having spent almost a full season in the Liverpool first team and forcing himself into thePFA Young Player of the Year candidate pool, will be looking to take off and reach his full potential.

From being whispered in conjunction with a loan outside of Anfield to starting for England in the World Cup within just a few months, Sterling showed rapid enough progression last season to potentially win over even the toughest critics. He showed a turn of pace and the dribbling technique to rival Sturridge‘s, and his vision, work rate and interpretation of space perhaps even exceeded the No. 15’s.

With Rickie Lambert in the side, Sturridge and Sterling will be flanking him as the focal point of the Reds attack. Lambert’s first touch, close control, passing, positioning and chance creation will no doubt play a pivotal role in setting the platform for the new SAS to thrive.

In return for the space that he helps put them into, their pace and off-the-shoulder runs will occupy the attention of enough defenders to create enough space for Lambert himself to get into. And Lambert is as cool, calm and collected in front of goal as anyone in the Premier League.

 

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Movement, Movement, Movement

For all of the assists that Suarez laid on for his team-mates last season, he was the undisputed individual star of the team, who frequently passed to him and relied on him to bail them out of trouble or get through a sticky patch.

That is no criticism. Far from it; it is merely an acknowledgement of the individual brilliance that he brought to Liverpool, who will undoubtedly be worse off from a magical game-changer point of view.

Yet as hard as Suarez might’ve been to mark, potentially still harder is Liverpool’s collective movement that will be on display this season. Three years into Rodgers’ reign, his team finally look confident and comfortable enough to carry out his tactical and positional plans, and it’s no surprise he has signed players this summer that will help his team achieve that as a collective.

Adam Lallana, Lambert’s captain at Southampton, may always be considered overpriced at a reported £25 million, per Andy Hunter ofThe Guardian, but he dovetailed with Lambert to great effect at the Saints and will offer plenty of movement between the lines in Rodgers’ system.

So too the effervescent Jordan Henderson and the underrated Joe Allen, as well as the electric new signing Lazar Markovic.

If there is a style of play that Lambert thrives in, it is one that is based on sound movement and intrinsic understanding of each other’s positioning. And not only will Lambert be a creator of goals just like his team-mates; he will also score them.

 

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Set Pieces

There is also the small matter of set pieces, and Liverpool, with pace and technique coursing through their side, are one of the most prolific set-piece winners in the Premier League.

Not to mention one of the league’s best at scoring from them. And adding Lambert into the equation will only help things.

First, for all the talk about Lambert’s technical ability, passing and close control, he remains a fine option in the air. He might not be quite as aerially dominant as Anfield flop Andy Carroll, but his positional intelligence and timing more than makes up for it. Getting Lambert on the end of a Steven Gerrard corner or free-kick would be a quite sumptuous prospect for Reds fans.

Then there are direct free-kicks, another area of expertise for Lambert, who has scored a few screamers for Southampton in his two-year Premier League journey with the Saints, including one against Crystal Palace last September. Suarez’s exit has deprived Liverpool of a strong alternative to Gerrard on free- kicks, but Lambert may prove just as prolific from range.

Finally, Rodgers’ squad will be strengthened by the addition of another composed mind from the spot. With 48 penalties scored from 49 attempts over the course of his career, Lambert is arguably one of the finest penalty-takers in the Premier League; his record eclipses even that of regular specialist Gerrard. Could he even usurp his new captain on penalty duty?

Regardless, Lambert’s versatility and well-roundedness offers his boyhood club a valuable option up front, both off the bench and from the start. In a team that creates chances in abundance and almost oozed goals last season, even without Suarez, Lambert stands to thrive.

An improvement on his total goal tally of 17 across all competitions last season might not be too far-fetched.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

10 Things Liverpool Learned from the 2013/14 Premier League Season

Perhaps it was just a touch too far for Liverpool in the end. Their fans harbored the hope and the romanticism, but Manchester City’s ruthless efficiency meant that as soon as Liverpool handed first place in the Premier League back into City’s hands, it was always going to be a tall order for the Reds.

On Liverpool’s part, it could’ve been a poetic end to the season on the final day. Steven Gerrard providing two set-piece assists to go clear in the Premier League assist charts, a goal from Daniel Agger on possibly his last-ever appearance for the Reds, and a goal for the understated Daniel Sturridge—all after Newcastle United took the lead through some dodgy Liverpool defending.

West Ham United—Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Joe Cole et al—just couldn’t play their supposed part against City on Sunday.

But while the conciliatory and congratulatory messages will be sent from the red half of Merseyside to the blue half of Manchester amid disappointment—“devastation,” Gerrard told Sky Sports (h/t Fox Sports)—at a lost chance to win a title, the overriding mood at Anfield after the final whistle on Sunday was a celebratory one.

For while City’s two goals in a clean sheet sealed their second title in three years, the Liverpool fans preferred to bask in the knowledge that their team had stormed their way back into the top four ahead of Brendan Rodgers’ schedule and preferred to acknowledge the brave but valiant efforts of their heroes.

And why not? It’s been an exciting campaign for Liverpool, and here are 10 things we learned from their 2013/14 Premier League season. Enjoy and let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Attack Wins Games…

Attack Wins Games…Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Having scored 101 goals in 38 league games this season—just one short of Manchester City’s haul—Liverpool have been one of English football’s great entertainers over the past 10 months.

Without taking any penalties and having missed his first five games of the season, Luis Suarez equaled the 38-game-season Premier League goal-scoring tally of 31, while Daniel Sturridge added 21 goals and Steven Gerrard 13.

The blitzing of Tottenham Hotspur (both home and away), Everton and Arsenal—all considered rivals at the start of the season—will be remembered for years to come, as the Reds hit three or more goals in a remarkable 21 out of their 38 games. The thrilling 11-game winning streak that rocketed Brendan Rodgers’ men to the top of the table with a few games to go was especially memorable.

Rodgers has instilled flexibility, directness and dynamism into his team, who are now capable of changing tactical formations from game to game and during matches. They can score goals from a variety of approaches—counterattacks, direct free kicks and other set pieces. The interchanging of his electric forward line has added to their aesthetic appeal, which has won them fans up and down the country and around the world.

From 71 goals last season to 101 this term—a 30-goal swing over a 38-game span—it has been a remarkable improvement in attacking form from by and large the same group of players, and Rodgers deserves as much credit as his charges.

Liverpool fan or not, this has been a season to savor.

 

…But Defence Wins Championships

…But Defence Wins ChampionshipsMichael Regan/Getty Images

Yet a simple comparison of goal difference between City and Liverpool shows everything about how the season has panned out: City, who scored just one more goal in total, finished with a goal difference of plus-65, compared with Liverpool’s plus-51.

Somehow it seemed fitting that Martin Skrtel’s own goal was Newcastle’s opener on Sunday—he is the highest-scoring defender in the Premier League with seven goals this season, yet his four own goals this season set a Premier League record.

Defence has proved to be Liverpool’s Achilles’ heel, and the main reason behind their failure to win the title.

Inevitable off days notwithstanding, there were fixtures and results that hinted at their defence being susceptible and potentially damaging to their cause. Hard-fought wins over Stoke City (5-3), Fulham (3-2), Swansea City (4-3) and Norwich City (3-2) always featured three goals or more scored, but required resolute defending to hold onto their slender lead.

So as much as it was anticlimactic from Liverpool’s point of view, the draw at Crystal Palace in the penultimate match of the season was actually arguably a long time coming, considering their weaknesses in defence and tendency to commit costly mistakes.

Liverpool finished the season just two points behind Manchester City. If they had been able to turn one loss into one win or two draws into two wins, they would’ve ended on top. Their attack is near-complete; it’s now the defence that needs major work.

 

A Mental Collapse Toward the End…

A Mental Collapse Toward the End…Clive Rose/Getty Images

In this season’s title race, we saw it all from Steven Gerrard: the “crazy eyes” after his opener in the 4-0 rout over Everton, a shirt-flinging celebration after a last-gasp penalty winner over Fulham, a kiss for the camera after his second penalty at Manchester United and even emotional tears after the thrilling win over Manchester City.

And if those celebrations weren’t enough to confirm just how desperate Gerrard was to win his first-ever Premier League title, surely the team talk that he gave on the pitch after the City match did.

So it was a cruel twist of fate—and to some an inevitable turn of events—that Gerrard was the one who committed the fatal error to let Demba Ba through, allowing Chelsea an opening goal deep into first-half stoppage time and hand the impetus back to City.

From then on, we rarely saw the Reds’ nerves settle.

Instead of playing it patiently and build attacks through Suarez, Liverpool opted to cross aimlessly into the box against Chelsea’s bus-parked box while notching their highest tally of crosses in a single game over the course of the season. A draw would’ve done just fine.

Instead of holding a three-goal lead and maximizing the points return at Palace, Rodgers opted to take off Raheem Sterling, one of his best defensive players this season, and decided to leave his experienced defenders on the bench in a bid to rack up the goals. A simple three points, which they were on the way to achieving, would’ve done just fine.

An 11-match winning run was what started making the Kop dream—but conversely it was the belief and dreams that led them to a calamitous collapse in the crucial moment of the season. The five dropped points made the difference in the end.

 

…But a Clear Sign of Increasing Maturity

…But a Clear Sign of Increasing MaturityAlex Livesey/Getty Images

Eleven wins on the bounce is no mean feat, and in the context of the entire season—and considering the lack of squad depth and strength at Rodgers’ disposal—the Reds, by and large, carried and managed themselves well.

There were the nervy wins brought about by the hesitant defence and the prolific attack, and there were moments that showed Liverpool’s increasing maturity.

Holding onto a one-goal lead when the tide had turned and the momentum had shifted to their opponents was a sure sign of mental progress on the part of Rodgers’ men. In April when they held their nerve against relegation-fighting Norwich City after Philippe Coutinho’s second-half winner over Manchester City, Liverpool fans started to believe.

No two players can exhibit finer physical and mental development this season than the excellent Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson, who got their chances to impress and took them in their own hands beyond any reasonable belief.

As we consider the close-season anticlimax, a good context to keep in mind is that one of the league’s youngest squads repeatedly held their nerve to secure a second-placed finish.

It will be of some comfort that reported targets Adam Lallana and Steven Caulker are currently the club captains of their respective clubs (Southampton and Cardiff City). Leadership is being targeted.

 

“They Have Been the Most Wonderful Underdogs”…

“They Have Been the Most Wonderful Underdogs”…

Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Players and fans alike have lauded the fervent atmosphere of Anfield this season, especially during the final few weeks of the season when the Kop roared on in full voice every match and Liverpool fans lined the streets of the city to inspire the players.

The atmosphere has frequently been compared with that of Champions League nights at Anfield, and now the Reds finally have that to savor next season.

This title race even evoked memories of the miraculous Champions League final turnaround in Istanbul almost nine years ago—and Martin Tyler’s remark that the Reds had been the “most wonderful underdogs” over the course of the tournament that season surely applied to their Premier League title challenge this time around.

A young squad playing scintillating attacking football with the charismatic Rodgers and the elder statesman that is Gerrard helming the side—Liverpool’s title challenge was inconceivable but widely welcomed and supported.

For most of the season, they played with no fear and without shackles. Chelsea and Manchester City were the big spenders with big-name players and managers, while Arsenal’s fall from top of the league to fourth place, Everton’s top-four challenge, Tottenham Hotspur’s wild inconsistencies under Tim Sherwood and Manchester United’s spectacular demise captured all the headlines.

As they have proved over the years, especially in Europe under Rafael Benitez, Liverpool are at their most dangerous when the underdog tag is applied.

 

…But What Happens When the Pressure Is On?

…But What Happens When the Pressure Is On?

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The question now is whether or not the Reds can live with a “favorites” tag.

To expect a thin squad and a poor bench to sustain a top performance level over the course of a season and outcompete world-class teams proved too much this season. While their lack of European football has been claimed by many to provide them with a sense of regularity, the fact that Liverpool didn’t even qualify for Europe last season says it all about their status as underdogs.

When the pressure was well and truly on and they were expected to see out the season in first place, they buckled.

Whether it was because of Gerrard’s unfortunate slip, Rodgers’ decision to go for the jugular against Chelsea when a draw would’ve done or the naivety that they could make up for the gigantic goal difference by continuing to pile forward with a three-goal lead against Crystal Palace, Liverpool seemed to make the wrong decisions at the wrong time.

And after providing a surprise element and a breath of fresh air this season, Liverpool will be considered favorites for the top four again next year, and another title challenge—especially in anticipation of their transfer activity this summer—has already been mooted.

It’s not just about managing expectations anymore; it’s about managing themselves so they can unlock their potential, but also get results over the line when they most need them.

 

Success Built on Experience and Quality…

Success Built on Experience and Quality…

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Where would Liverpool be this May without Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard?

Together, the No. 7 and No. 8 contributed 44 goals and 25 assists, over 68 per cent of Liverpool’s whopping total of 101 goals over the campaign—and that’s including Suarez’s five-game suspension at the start of the season and Gerrard’s midseason injury layoff.

When Liverpool fans look back in years to come, their likely conclusion will be that keeping Suarez away from the clutches of Arsenal in the summer of 2013 might just have proved their most pivotal decision in recent years.

And Rodgers moving Gerrard into a withdrawn playmaking role has unlocked the best out of the captain, possibly even extending his playing career.

Suarez has added even more to his arsenal (ha): Not only has he evolved into a fearsome finisher, but he has also become prolific at direct free kicks and also ranks second in the Premier League assist charts.

Likewise Gerrard, who has taken to his new position smoothly and has been able to unlock defences through his unerring through balls and long passes. His dead-ball deliveries have been a big component of Liverpool’s league-leading set-piece goal tally.

 

…But Exciting Glimpses Toward the Future

…But Exciting Glimpses Toward the Future

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

But despite Suarez and Gerrard taking first and second place in the Football Writers’ Player of the Year awards, their supporting cast have been equally important and threatened to steal the show.

There is no need to elaborate on the maturation of Jordan Henderson, nor the meteoric rise of Raheem Sterling—likewise with the resurgence of Jon Flanagan, the consistency of Daniel Sturridge and the mercurial talent of Philippe Coutinho.

What has been made abundantly clear is that Rodgers, himself a young coach, has prized talent development and made youth a centerpiece of his Liverpool side. In taking such a young team to within a whisker of the Premier League title takes vision and guts and deserves credit.

That Henderson, Sterling and Sturridge have risen from pure potential to potentially starting alongside their club captain in Roy Hodgson’s England lineup in the World Cup this summer is a testament to their own hard work and Rodgers’ tutelage.

Add a few more quality players with at least a few top years ahead of them this summer, and Anfield could witness not just a new generation of blossoming talent, but a golden era in itself.

The possibilities are tantalizing.

 

Liverpool Face Their Most Pivotal Summer Transfer Window…

Liverpool Face Their Most Pivotal Summer Transfer Window…

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

To realize their potential, however, Liverpool must continue their encouraging momentum and take full advantage of a first genuinely exciting summer transfer window ahead of them.

For the first time in a few years, the Reds have the Champions League and a title challenge to offer—with the money that comes on the back of such developments—and can use them to attract the players that will keep them there.

Too many transfer windows have come and gone without real progress. Even last summer, after almost six months of tantalizing attacking football following the excellent additions of Sturridge and Coutinho, the Anfield club wasted a good opportunity.

Eight players were signed, but only Simon Mignolet has managed to make himself a mainstay in Rodgers’ team. Pepe Reina left on loan to Napoli, leaving the Belgian as the only realistic choice as No. 1.

The excuse that has often been offered is that squad strengthening was the priority last summer, but a quick look at the Liverpool bench shows that even that objective was not realized.

They must not repeat the same mistakes again, not in the least because their rivals will no doubt be spending big to boost their own squads this summer.

 

…But the Belief Is Back

…But the Belief Is Back

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

At the core of it all, though, this season has been about the triumphant return of belief, of lofty ideals and of giddy daydreaming for Liverpool Football Club—whether it be in the stands, on the Kop, on the Anfield pitch or in newspaper headlines around England and the world.

As we close out the season and look ahead to the World Cup—less so the inevitable circus that is the summer transfer window—we prefer not to focus on the possibility that this was perhaps Liverpool’s best shot at the title for many years to come.

We prefer not to focus on the calamitous slip that lost them their sure footing en route to winning a first-ever Premier League title.

Why focus on the negatives, when Liverpool have just finished ahead of schedule, not only in the Champions League places, but just two points short of the title outright?

While they have done so while breaking the three-digit mark in terms of goals scored, just one short from one of the most expensive squads in world sport? And with one of the youngest top-ranked teams in all of European football?

The anxiety and apprehension at how next season will pan out should come right as the Premier League resumes again in August—not now.

The anxiety and apprehension will only come about because Liverpool have made it possible to dream again anyway.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Comparing Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling, Coutinho with Aguero, Dzeko, Silva, Nasri

A few things have changed since Premier League fans were debating between three of its all-star strike partnerships this season: David Moyes has failed to unlock the potential of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney, Alvaro Negredo has seen his starting place usurped at times by Edin Dzeko and we’ve come to recognise the brilliance of entire forward lines, not just that of two strikers.

And so these days, instead of choosing between Manchester United’s Van Persie and Rooney, Liverpool’s Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, and Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo, we’re now left to pick between the all-star attacking quartets of Liverpool and City.

Specifically: Suarez, Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho versus Aguero, Dzeko, David Silva and Samir Nasri.

As we look ahead to Sunday’s clash between Liverpool and Manchester City at Anfield—billed as a title decider—we’re not just considering the impact of the result on the title race, we’re also looking forward to seeing the league’s two most prolific attacks going at each other in what promises to be an open, exciting and pulsating match.

Here, we’ve compiled a fun comparison between the two forward lines across five categories—investment, potency, creativity, consistency and potential—before we arrive at our own conclusion on which is the better strike force. Enjoy and let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Investment

Investment

Michael Steele/Getty Images

First, let’s compare how the strike forces were assembled and for what price.

 

Liverpool

Luis Suarez: £22.8 million, from Ajax Amsterdam.
Daniel Sturridge: £12 million, from Chelsea.
Raheem Sterling: £600,000 (potentially £5 million, depending on performances), from Queens Park Rangers.
Philippe Coutinho: £8.5 million, from Internazionale.

Total: £43.9 million (potentially £48.3 million).

 

Manchester City

Sergio Aguero: £38 million, from Atletico Madrid.
Edin Dzeko: £27 million, from Wolfsburg.
David Silva: £24 million, from Valencia.
Samir Nasri: £25 million, from Arsenal.

Total: £114 million.

 

Summary

In signing undervalued players with potential—Raheem Sterling is the standout purchase here, having signed for Liverpool aged just 15—Liverpool have made some shrewd acquisitions who have blossomed under the tutelage of Brendan Rodgers.

Coutinho and Sturridge in particular were players on the sidelines at their previous clubs who are starting to realise their full potential. Indeed, both players have transformed the club’s attacking fortunes since arriving at Anfield just over a year ago.

Manchester City, on the other hand, have opted to sign big, established names from leagues around Europe, fighting off stiff competition from top clubs to land their targets. In doing so, besides the initial outlay in terms of the transfer fees, all four players are on stellar wage packages, making them even more expensive as an overall financial investment.

That said, it’s hard to argue with their success at City—for it was Dzeko and Aguero who scored the two goals in injury time that won the club their first ever Premier League title in 2012.

 

Verdict: Liverpool

When it comes to initial investment, however, there was only ever going to be one clear winner here, a conclusion that might not have needed the above breakdown as justification. Liverpool win this round hands down.

 

Potency

Potency

Clive Mason/Getty Images

Attackers need to score goals. This category is all about league goals scored, and how important they are to their respective teams going forward.

 

Liverpool

Suarez: 29 goals in 28 games.
Sturridge: 20 goals in 25 games.
Sterling: Six goals in 28 games.
Coutinho: Four goals in 28 games.

Total: 59 goals this season.

 

Manchester City

Aguero: 15 goals in 17 games.
Dzeko: 11 goals in 24 games.
Silva: Six goals in 22 games.
Nasri: Five goals in 27 games.

Total: 37 goals this season.

 

Summary

In terms of just goal-scoring output this season, the above comparison might be a bit surprising for some, considering Liverpool and Manchester City are both flying high in the Premier League “goals for” column.

The combined total of 59 goals from Liverpool’s attacking quartet, out of their staggering total of 90, means that almost two-thirds of all the club’s goals have come from these four players. Add Steven Gerrard’s 13 to the mix and you have 80 per cent of all goals coming from five players.

Contrast that with City’s foursome, who have contributed just 37 goals out of their 84-goal total. Yaya Toure, who mainly operates as a central, box-to-box midfielder, is a glaring omission with his club-high haul of 18, while Alvaro Negredo has contributed a respectable return of nine thus far. Still, that’s just 76 per cent of all goals coming from six key players.

Injuries and squad options have had a large say as well—barring Daniel Sturridge’s mid-season injury, which deprived him of some game time, all of the Reds’ forwards have notched their goals in a 28-game season thus far. A quick glance at City’s shows the fewer games they have managed, in particular Sergio Aguero, who is still an injury doubt for Sunday’s clash.

 

Verdict: Liverpool

All of which means that, yes, Liverpool’s four forwards have the more impressive goal return, in terms of numbers and percentage of their club’s overall goals scored. It also means, however, that City have more options spread across the squad—which may yet be a deciding factor in where the Premier League trophy lands this May.

 

Creativity

Creativity

Paul Thomas/Getty Images

Now let’s see how they stack up in terms of creativity, which we’ll simplify into two categories: assists and chances created. (All statistics courtesy of Squawka.com.)

 

Liverpool

Suarez: 11 assists, 77 chances created.
Sturridge: Seven assists, 27 chances created.
Sterling: Three assists, 38 chances created.
Coutinho: Six assists, 51 chances created.

Total: 27 assists, 193 chances created.

 

Manchester City

Aguero: Five assists, 27 chances created.
Dzeko: One assist, 14 chances created.
Silva: Nine assists, 77 chances created.
Nasri: Five assists, 55 chances created.

Total: 20 assists, 173 chances created.

 

Summary

A close match, especially adjusting for the number of games played by each member here.

Suarez is the clear standout, both with the highest number of outright assists and with a chance creation record similar to that of a world-class playmaker like David Silva—which goes great lengths to show the phenomenal season that the Uruguayan striker is having.

When it comes to the supporting attackers, however, the numbers become more interesting. Despite having more games between them, Sterling and Coutinho only combine for 89 chances created, while Silva and Nasri have an impressive total of 132, which explains the dominant position City have held for most of the season in terms of total goals scored, and hints at what could have been for them had Aguero stayed fit for most of it.

 

Verdict: Tie

We had a hard time choosing a winner here, so we’re going for the easy option—a tie. If Aguero had stayed fit for the majority of the season and played in as many games as the rest of his attacking partners, City could well have won this category by a mile.

As it stands, though, both sides seem to have creativity bursting at the seams, which can only be a good thing ahead of Sunday’s match.

 

Consistency

Consistency

Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

Now for a category that is much harder to be backed purely by numbers and statistics. In evaluating consistency, we look for the contributions by the forwards on a week-to-week basis over the course of the season thus far.

 

Liverpool

It’s been an exhilarating campaign for the Reds, by almost all measures. At the base of it, their current first-placed position in the league table says it all—Liverpool have already overachieved this season.

Crucial to this excellent league performance has been Luis Suarez’s outstanding consistency. Despite missing his first five matches of the season through suspension, he has been an ever-present and even set a new record for league goals scored in one calendar month back in December. Daniel Sturridge carried the team on his back during Suarez’s early-season absence and stormed back to action after an injury layoff by scoring in eight matches in a row.

By the high standards he set for himself in the second half of the 2012/13 Premier League campaign, Coutinho has not quite performed to them this season. In contrast, this has very much been a breakout campaign for Raheem Sterling, who has cemented his place in the first team after a series of strong and mature displays since December.

 

Manchester City

Just as Suarez has set the bar for consistent excellence this year, Aguero has disappointed with his injury troubles. A league campaign that threatened to feature two genuinely world-class strikers running away in the scoring charts—much like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo do in La Liga—has now resulted in a one-sided affair.

That Manuel Pellegrini has rotated between Alvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko means that there hasn’t been much consistency in terms of Aguero’s strike partner—Negredo’s skill set clearly complements Aguero well, but in Aguero’s absence, Negredo and Dzeko have yet to set the league on fire.

The same applies for David Silva, who has shown flashes of brilliance at times this season and is rediscovering a good patch of form of late, but has also been beset by injuries. Samir Nasri is the flag-bearer for consistency in the City forward line this year, having shown a massive improvement in both attitude and attacking contribution since Roberto Mancini’s departure.

 

Verdict: Liverpool

Suarez’s performance levels this season are arguably enough to make Liverpool winners in this category on his own. Aguero might have run him close, given his outstanding record when fit at the start of the season, but his injuries have robbed City of any chance of coming close to the Reds here.

 

Potential

Potential

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Since there isn’t a set formula to calculate potential return—both in terms of attacking contribution over the coming years and indeed in the amount of money the clubs could receive if they decide to sell these players—we’ll simply consider the current age and go from there.

 

Liverpool

One of the many things that has stood out from Brendan Rodgers’ achievements this season is how young his squad currently is. The attacking quartet of Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling and Coutinho has an average age of just 22.75 years, which is both supremely encouraging from the club’s standpoint and also extremely exciting for the Premier League.

That Rodgers has gotten such a young team—don’t forget the relative youth of Simon Mignolet, Jon Flanagan, Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson—to fire their way to the top of the Premier League is a big testament to his philosophy and vision at Anfield.

 

Manchester City

With an average age of 26.75 years, City’s forward line can be rightly regarded as entering its prime. That Aguero, aged just 25, has, when fit, run 27-year-old Suarez so close speaks volumes of the potential of the Argentinian striker, who still has a few years to go at the top level just yet.

The same can be said of Silva and Nasri, who have exhibited the tenacity to show that they can still perform at peak level for a few years still, but Dzeko’s status as the oldest among all contenders here, and the fact that his future at the club is still up in the air adds an element of instability.

 

Verdict: Liverpool

The four-year difference in average age is so considerable, it’s almost shocking to think what this Liverpool attack will be capable of in a few years’ time, when they collectively arrive at City’s level. That Liverpool signed all four of their forwards at prices arguably lower than market value also makes their potential resale value much higher than City’s from a profit margin standpoint.

 

Conclusion

Conclusion

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

From our verdicts across five categories here, Liverpool emerge as the clear winners in an attack-against-attack comparison with Manchester City.

They’ve signed their forwards at a relatively younger age, meaning that both the initial investment and the potential return are much higher, while their output and consistency are no doubt the more impressive of the two.

City come close in creativity, hinting that their season has been dampened by a very significant factor—the ongoing injury troubles of Sergio Aguero.

It’s intriguing to think how City would shape up here if Aguero had remained fit to complete a whole season—perhaps Pellegrini’s men would really be out of sight in the “goals for” column in the Premier League.

As it stands, however, it’s the 90-goal Reds hosting the 84-goal Blues at Anfield this Sunday. The imminent return of Sergio Aguero (per the Mirror), however, makes it that bit more interesting.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

West Ham United 1-2 Liverpool: 6 Things We Learned from Reds’ Tense Win

Two Steven Gerrard penalties were enough to give Liverpool a precious win over West Ham United at Upton Park on Sunday, as the Reds climbed back to the top of the Premier League table with five matches to go.

James Tomkins’ handball against Luis Suarez and Hammers goalkeeper Adrian’s foul on Jon Flanagan gave Gerrard the opportunity to notch a brace from the spot, while Liverpool’s goals were sandwiched by a Guy Demel finish as Andy Carroll’s foul on Simon Mignolet went unnoticed.

It was a cagey affair, with Sam Allardyce’s men displaying yet again their infamous physical style of football in a valiant attempt to stifle the creativity and fluidity of Brendan Rodgers’ side. But the visitors did enough to hold on for all three points.

Here are six things we learned from Liverpool’s tense win over West Ham. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

A Show of Resilience from the Reds

A Show of Resilience from the Reds

Julian Finney/Getty Images

Not every match this season can be a four-goal demolition like Liverpool’s emphatic win over Tottenham Hotspur just a week ago, but it’s not the first time the Reds have ground out a much-needed win.

Away victories against the likes of Fulham and Stoke City come to mind, and Brendan Rodgers can rightly feel proud of his charges after another battling display at a traditionally difficult ground to visit.

It was far from vintage Liverpool, as West Ham’s closing down and clearing of their lines were enough to stifle the visitors’ attack. But Liverpool’s patience and insistence at finding the right moment and space to break through the Hammers defence yielded the two all-important penalties.

Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho—starting in place of the injured Daniel Agger—put on a show of commanding defending against the expected aerial bombardment of West Ham, and together with substitute Kolo Toure, they held on despite a nervy ending at Upton Park.

 

Steven Gerrard, the Coolest Customer in Town

Steven Gerrard, the Coolest Customer in Town

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

After all these years, where, still, would Liverpool be without Steven Gerrard?

His brace from the spot made it double digits for the Reds skipper this season from penalties alone, and they also took him past Kenny Dalglish in the Liverpool all-time scoring charts.

Besides the composure he displayed in dispatching two excellently clinical penalties, Gerrard also showed an ever-increasing ease in his newfound holding midfield role, as he dictated play from deep within the Liverpool half.

It was his sumptuous cross-field pass, of course, that set Luis Suarez on his way to winning the visitors’ first penalty. But it was all down to Gerrard after that to make sure they took their chances.

As usual, he delivered with aplomb.

 

Contrasting Fortunes for ‘SAS’

Contrasting Fortunes for 'SAS'

Julian Finney/Getty Images

It’s a testament to Luis Suarez’s brilliant form this season that his performance on Sunday could be considered disappointing, despite him winning Liverpool’s first penalty and hitting the crossbar twice.

But by the standards of any Premier League striker, Suarez already put in a blinder of a shift up front for Liverpool on Sunday, and his two audacious efforts—both of which hit the Hammers crossbar—deserved to go in from the sheer brilliance of his improvisation.

By contrast, Daniel Sturridge’s quiet form has continued for a second week running. A subdued performance against Tottenham last weekend was followed by an uninspiring display on Sunday, featuring a few hurried shots that he would normally have buried.

While a fit and firing Suarez should be more than enough for Premier League defences to deal with—especially with a confident and ever-developing Raheem Sterling alongside him—Brendan Rodgers could do with a resurgent Daniel Sturridge for the end-of-season run-in.

Starting with the titular clash against Manchester City next week.

 

Once Again, the Referee Takes Center Stage

Once Again, the Referee Takes Center Stage

Julian Finney/Getty Images

Not for the first time this season, the match referee has grabbed the spotlight in a Liverpool match.

On this occasion, it was Anthony Taylor, who appeared to have overruled his linesman and awarded Guy Demel’s goal right on the stroke of half-time.

Andy Carroll’s flagrant punch at Simon Mignolet’s head was apparently spotted by the linesman, who seemed to have flagged right away for an infringement of the goalkeeper, but Taylor ruled the goal to be legitimate, much to Liverpool’s chagrin.

Ultimately, it didn’t make too much of a difference to the end result, but it could’ve been a decision to derail the Reds’ title challenge.

And that’s not even mentioning a contentious decision to award Liverpool a penalty after Adrian’s challenge on Jon Flanagan.

 

West Ham Fans Have Every Right to Expect Better

West Ham Fans Have Every Right to Expect Better

Julian Finney/Getty Images

A couple of weeks ago, Upton Park rang out in boos despite West Ham beating Hull City 2-1, which was met with derision by Sam Allardyce, as reported by BBC Sport.

It was alleged at the time, according to Jacob Steinberg of The Guardian, that the Hammers supporters were fed up with Allardyce’s direct and physical playing style, and on current evidence, perhaps the West Ham faithful have a point.

With the backs-to-the-wall defending that they employed in a home fixture and the rough playing style they adopted against the Liverpool defence, West Ham’s performance certainly didn’t make for any entertaining viewing.

For the self-styled “Academy of Football,” West Ham’s current approach doesn’t seem in line with their history and traditions—but they’ve practically secured their all-important Premier League status for another season.

 

Liverpool Have Just Enough to Return to the Summit

Liverpool Have Just Enough to Return to the Summit

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

With five matches to go, Liverpool find themselves back at the top of the table after a Premier League weekend that saw both Manchester City and Chelsea notch convincing wins.

Liverpool are currently on 74 points—two ahead of second-placed Chelsea—and on a nine-match winning run, which makes next Sunday’s match against Manchester City all the more pivotal to either side’s title hopes this season.

That Liverpool have discovered a newfound mental strength and resoluteness has been a tried and tested theory this season, but they will need to display the kind of rearguard action that they did this Sunday for the rest of the campaign if they are to come out on top.

The underlying narrative doesn’t change, though: Win all their remaining games, and Liverpool will win the league.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Film Focus: Breaking Down Liverpool’s Impressive 3-0 Win over Manchester United

Two Steven Gerrard penalties and a Luis Suarez finish handed Liverpool an impressive 3-0 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday. And it could’ve been much more.

Besides Steven Gerrard’s performance, which, despite missing his third penalty of the night, was more than enough to see him awarded the Man of the Match, there were a number of interesting talking points from the match.

First was, of course, the sheer number of penalty kicks that referee Mark Clatternburg could have called over the 90 minutes. Marouane Fellaini’s first-half trip on Luis Suarez was let go, while Michael Carrick’s second-half swipe of Daniel Sturridge’s feet after Gerrard’s missed penalty was also not called.

Then there were the decisions that Liverpool perhaps got away with, namely the lack of contact over the visitors’ third penalty, which saw Nemanja Vidic sent off for a fourth time in this fixture for a tackle that didn’t actually connect—and a Glen Johnson handball inside the Liverpool box.

And then, there was David Moyes’ curious decision-making. It wasn’t limited to just deploying record signing and specialist No. 10 Juan Mata on the wings again. It was the lack of instant reaction from the United manager that saw his first substitutions take place on 76 minutes, a full half-hour after the hosts went 2-0 down.

Away from these three general observations, we felt there were four instances that symbolized the match and its eventual outcome. Let’s take a more detailed look at four scenarios that occurred throughout the match.

 

Robin van Persie, deep-lying playmaker?

That Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney have spectacularly failed to strike up a useful and threatening strike partnership this season has not gone unnoticed—but their lack of interplay on Sunday will have been very disappointing for Manchester United fans.

More alarming, however, was the manner in which van Persie and Rooney tried to link up with each other (or at least make it seem like they were).

So isolated was van Persie up front that he often drifted out to the left wing in pursuit of the ball, depriving United of any forward presence up front and in theory allowing the supporting midfielders—and Rooney—to charge forward.

But after so many jokes at the Red Devils’ expense in recent months about their crossing-only attacking play, Sunday was yet another exhibition of why their incessant crossing is so unfruitful.

 

BBC Match of the DayAs we see in this first-half shot, van Persie has come so deep that he’s literally on the halfway line (yellow circle on the left). Rooney’s charge forward (yellow circle on the right) brings him level with the last man in the Liverpool defence—Daniel Agger—and there are a full three United players between van Persie and Rooney that the former can look to go through.

Instead, his next move is to play a cross-field ball that ends up cleared away all too easily by the Liverpool rearguard. Not a very inspiring attacking approach.

The sad thing was, this was only one of the many times this sequence occurred.

 

Manchester United’s undisciplined defending

By our count, Liverpool could’ve easily had five penalties called on Sunday—a remarkable stat given that their first, after Rafael da Silva’s handball against Luis Suarez, was the first penalty conceded at Old Trafford in the Premier League since December 2011.

While Rafael’s handball was all down to individual carelessness (and he could arguably have been issued a second yellow card), the second penalty was very much down to a collective lack of discipline in the United defence.

In the immediate buildup to the penalty, Jordan Henderson deserves much of the credit for spotting an excellent Joe Allen run into the box and then producing an exquisite flick over the top to find his fellow midfielder. Allen’s use of the body allows him to take control of the ball, which puts the United defence under pressure.

But let’s take a look at the positional errors that the hosts have committed in this single piece of defensive play.

 

BBC Match of the DayThis freeze frame, taken right as Henderson is about to release the ball to Allen, comes on the back of a long ball over the top towards Raheem Sterling on the right side of the penalty box, where he is only tracked by Nemanja Vidic.

United left-back Patrice Evra (blue circle on the left) arrives late on the scene and is dragged back by the ball, while Marouane Fellaini (blue circle on the right) also follows the ball into a zone very much out of his own. Evra and Fellaini have almost switched positions here—bear in mind that Evra should have been tracking Sterling and Fellaini, as the defensive midfielder, should have picked up Henderson or Allen.

These positional errors leave centre-backs Phil Jones and Vidic exposed and under pressure from Allen’s run, as Vidic (yellow circle on the right) is also dragged toward the ball and thus behind Allen’s run (white arrow).

Jones’ disadvantageous starting point (yellow circle on the left) means that he could’ve left Vidic come into Allen’s path (red box) and tackled on his right foot, but the former’s rash movement bundles Allen over and concedes the penalty.

2-0 to the visitors.

 

The movement and magic of Suarez and Sturridge

It’s a testament to how badly United fared that Liverpool didn’t even really get out of their first gear over the 90 minutes and still came away with a comprehensive win.

Arguably the most impressive (and productive) piece of forward play from the Reds’ league-leading strike force came when Luis Suarez took advantage of a Daniel Sturridge mishit and finished with aplomb past David de Gea to take the score to 3-0.

 

BBC Match of the DayAs we see in this freeze frame, the dotted red line represents the path Sturridge would undoubtedly have wanted his shot to have taken. If that shot would’ve gone through, David de Gea, who had just forced the corner from which this play started after a brilliant stop from Luis Suarez at point-blank range, could’ve been equal to it, or perhaps parried it out for another corner.

Instead it hits Phil Jones and lands at Suarez’s feet, who controls and finishes it with his left foot past de Gea.

That this play started from a corner was instrumental in the buildup to the goal. Martin Skrtel had stayed forward after the corner and made his presence felt in the penalty area: Jones (yellow circle) has his attentions occupied by Skrtel.

Patrice Evra (blue circle) is once again in no-man’s land as he is woefully out of position once more, while none of United’s players tracked the brilliant run that Suarez timed to perfection. As a result, Jones is caught in two minds, and by the time the ball arrives at Suarez’s feet, Jones and all of his defensive colleagues are nowhere near Liverpool’s No. 7, who couldn’t miss from there.

While the goal ultimately came about in a fortuitous manner, with the ball ricocheting off Jones’ legs to find Suarez, the manner of the runs and the positioning in the buildup suggest that this goal could very easily have been conjured deliberately.

If Sturridge had spotted Suarez’s run and decided to play him in with a deft pass, Suarez would still have been in with an easy finish. More importantly, while Sturridge inadvertently turned creator here, it’s not difficult at all to envision a role reversal here, with Suarez pulling the strings and feeding Sturridge through with an exquisite pass.

The fact that both of Liverpool’s strikers could have played either part in this goal shows exactly why the Reds are increasingly far and away the most prolific scorers in the Premier League.

 

Liverpool still have a midfield problem

With all this said, however, we will also pick one scenario that focuses on the deficiencies that Liverpool still have, even if it wasn’t at all exploited during the game. It’s just as food for thought and a note of caution for Reds fans.

 

BBC Match of the DayThe scene shown here is a Manchester United attack—their only shot on target during the entire 90 minutes—toward the end of the first half, from which Wayne Rooney forced a good reactive save from Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.

Toward the bottom of the screen, Rafael is on the charge with the ball on the right flank. Right before this scene, Rafael’s good combination play with Adnan Januzaj leaves Jon Flanagan for dead, and the Liverpool defender is now forced to chase back after missing his initial tackle (blue circle and arrow).

As Daniel Agger is drawn out of position to mark the supporting Januzaj and Martin Skrtel is trying to maintain a presence in the penalty box, it’s now left to Steven Gerrard to track back and cover for Flanagan’s positional mishap (yellow circle and arrow).

However, Gerrard’s run toward United’s right means that his customary central defensive midfield zone has been left vacant, leaving a huge gap in the middle (red box) for Wayne Rooney (white circle) to storm into.

Rafael does subsequently find Rooney on the edge of the area, and the United forward unleashes a shot that Mignolet parries.

Fortunately for Liverpool, they held out to end the half 1-0 up and scored immediately after the second half.

From there on out, it was just a matter of wrapping up the three points. But as convincing as Liverpool looked on Sunday, they still have some work to do on the training ground.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.

Liverpool 4-3 Swansea: 6 Things We Learned from Reds’ Thrilling Win at Anfield

Liverpool 4-3 Swansea: 6 Things We Learned from Reds' Thrilling Win at Anfield
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

A seven-goal thriller at Anfield on Sunday saw Liverpool race into a 2-0 lead with goals from Daniel Sturridge and Jordan Henderson, only for Swansea City to peg them back. A second from Sturridge took the Reds up at half-time, only for a Wilfried Bony penalty to level things up after the break, before Henderson scored the winner.

This was both an exhibition of a swashbuckling attack and a display of dreadful defending from the home side, while Swansea’s enterprising efforts and relentless energy troubled Brendan Rodgers’ side throughout the 90 minutes.

But a brace each from Sturridge and Henderson were just enough to see the visitors off as the Reds secured an important three points after results elsewhere this weekend had gone the way of the Premier League top three.

Here are six things we learned about Liverpool’s thrilling win over Swansea. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

A Defensive Shambles

A Defensive Shambles
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

For the first time this season, Liverpool conceded three goals at home: Once again, it was their potent attack that bailed them out from an abysmal defensive performance.

It seems that the Reds defence struggle badly against big centre-forwards: They’ve been troubled by the likes of Christian Benteke in the past couple of seasons, and on Sunday it was Swansea’s Wilfried Bony who asked plenty of questions of Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger.

From Brendan Rodgers’ 63rd-minute substitution of Agger for the recently hapless Kolo Toure, it was fair to say that the vice-captain had failed to impress and that Bony had won the battle.

Not that Skrtel fared much better though. After a few months’ worth of shirt-pulling and tugging inside the penalty box had gone unnoticed, referee Mike Jones gave a decision that had been coming for a long time: a penalty on Skrtel.

In front of the defence, Steven Gerrard had one of his off days in the holding midfield role, as his tendency to roam forward to push the team on left gaping holes in the Reds’ final third. Jonjo Shelvey’s goal came as a result of the space afforded to him.

While Glen Johnson had a decent game upon his return from injury, only Jon Flanagan should emerge from the game with any credit. He grew in stature as the game wore on, and his work rate and commitment to the cause were crucial as Liverpool held on for the victory.

 

Contrasting Fortunes for Liverpool’s Strikers

Contrasting Fortunes for Liverpool’s Strikers
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Two goals and an assist for Daniel Sturridge made it 10 goals in his last eight league games, setting a record for Liverpool and opening a gap over Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero in the Premier League scoring charts.

Sturridge played the majority of the match on the right-hand side of the Liverpool front three, but his awareness and positioning to race clear in the 2nd minute and to head the home side back into the lead in the 36th minute had all the markings of a top Premier League striker.

Contrast that with Luis Suarez, who, despite putting in an exquisite cross for Sturridge’s second goal, failed to score once again. He’s only scored one goal in his last six league games, a far cry from his sizzling form in December.

As long as the SAS partnership remains productive and Liverpool continue to rack up the goals—and more importantly, the points—Suarez’s barren run will go relatively unnoticed, but this is not an ideal time for the No. 7’s shooting boots to go missing.

Liverpool fans and Suarez himself will look to Manchester United’s Robin van Persie as a study in “bouncebackability”: The United striker went through a mini-drought in the middle of last season as well, before storming back to take them to the league title.

 

Jordan Henderson Steps Up

Jordan Henderson Steps Up
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Almost three years since he signed for Liverpool, Jordan Henderson finally looked like he was worth the £16 million Kenny Dalglish had splashed out to sign him from Sunderland.

Having stepped up to the fore over the Christmas period when Steven Gerrard was injured, Henderson had quietened down just a bit and retreated into more of a comfort zone when his captain returned.

But when the situation at Anfield on Sunday called for a leader to rise to the cause, it was Henderson who responded with a stirring performance.

Two goals, a constant box-to-box presence, frequent marauding runs into Swansea’s penalty area and a match-winning goal: This was a performance fitting of Steven Gerrard at his finest.

It is just as well that Henderson has rediscovered his form, confidence and assertiveness on the pitch as Liverpool look to finish their Premier League season strongly.

With Gerrard taking more of a backseat role these days, it is up to Henderson to carry on his good work and affect his inspirational leadership on this Liverpool side.

Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool fans will be looking for more of the same in the weeks to come.

 

An Impressive Cameo from Joe Allen

An Impressive Cameo from Joe Allen
Jon Super/Associated Press

In hindsight, Rodgers made an inspired change just before the hour mark when he sent Joe Allen on for Raheem Sterling.

Swansea had equalized through a Wilfried Bony penalty, and Liverpool were looking just a bit jaded and nervous in the midfield, where Raheem Sterling’s influence had waned with the visitors’ rise in confidence.

Allen brought both composure and energetic pressing to the Reds midfield, both of which were integral to the home side keeping and recycling the ball, as well as giving Swansea a tougher time with their own possession play.

Allen took turns with Henderson going forward to the support the attack with his touches of the ball in advanced areas crucial to Liverpool’s attacking build-up.

As Liverpool enter the final 11 games of the season with less-than-desirable strength in depth, Allen provided a timely reminder of his qualities and potential worth to the side as a different option in the midfield.

However, his fellow substitute, Victor Moses, made the opposite impression with a lethargic display of poor invention and even poorer work rate.

If Allen made himself a real contender for the first team in the months to come, Moses surely moved himself further away from it with a disappointing 15 minutes off the bench.

 

An Encouraging Display from Swansea City

An Encouraging Display from Swansea City
Stu Forster/Getty Images

Garry Monk will have left Anfield ruing his side’s own defensive mistakes, as Swansea City had the chance to take a point or even all three home to south Wales.

But as the first side to score three goals at Anfield this season, Swansea will have been encouraged by their display: A show of energetic pressing and tidy passing put plenty of pressure on Brendan Rodgers’ side.

Michu’s loss for the majority of the season has been a huge setback for the Swans, but in his stead Wilfried Bony has started to look like the Premier League force he threatened to be in his first couple of months at the Liberty Stadium.

Strong, quick and clinical, Bony’s hold-up play caused plenty of problems for the Reds defence and opened up space for his midfield colleagues to roam forward and shoot on goal.

As Swansea find themselves much closer to bottom-placed Fulham than to ninth-placed Southampton, their first priority is to remain in the Premier League for the foreseeable future.

But as long as Monk continues in this mould, they should be looking at far more than staying in the league; they should be aiming at least to finish 10th.

 

Liverpool March on in Not-So-Impressive Fashion

Liverpool March on in Not-so-Impressive Fashion
Jon Super/Associated Press

When a Premier League side ships three goals to an opponent, “marching on” isn’t exactly the right term to use in the post-match reports, even if they’ve scored four themselves.

Yet “march on” is what Liverpool continue to do, and their nervy win highlighted attributes that they perhaps didn’t have previously: mental strength and a collective desire to finish in the top four.

Sunday was their ninth time scoring four or more goals in a Premier League game this season, and all three points in the bag, they have already equaled the number of wins they achieved last season—with 11 games to go.

Liverpool’s four-goal haul also makes them the highest-scoring side in the Premier League this season, overtaking Manchester City. No mean feat for a team that is still supposedly in a transitional season.

Their unconvincing defence will continue to leak goals, but as long as their attack continues to fire and they have big-game players coming up trumps, Liverpool may yet have further statements to make.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.