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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.

 

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

 

 

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.

 

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

 

 

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.

 

Phil Cole/Getty Images

 

 

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.

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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.

 

Jon Super/Associated Press

 

 

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.

Why Mario Balotelli Will Be Better at Liverpool Than Manchester City

Mario Balotelli is back in England with Liverpool, and he’s still attracting headlines everywhere he goes.

Wolverhampton Wanderers manager Kenny Jackett had to take to the media to reject widespread suggestions on social media that Balotelli was involved in a clash during a behind-closed-doors friendly last week, via the Mirror.

Balotelli himself will be expecting more of the same rumor creation and spreading during his time at Anfield, as the media and fans continue to operate under the mythical persona that they have all combined to create.

But as he prepares to make his home debut in Red against Aston Villa this weekend, there are reasons to believe that while he will still be subject to constant scrutiny. Mario Balotelli will be a better player at Anfield than during his time with Manchester City.

Here are five reasons why.

 

He’s Four Years Older

It seems as if Mario Balotelli has been around forever. After all, we’ve heard all about his temper tantrums dating back to his days at Internazionale, his racism controversies during his time in Italy, then his folk legends at Manchester City.

That he has been in the spotlight since 2007 when he made his debut for Inter is a testament to his talent and potential, which led to Roberto Mancini giving him his debut at the Giuseppe Meazza.

When he arrived at City for £22.5 million, he brought a considerable reputation with him—yet he was only just 20 years old.

Four years on, Balotelli has become Italy’s starting striker, with a stint as AC Milan‘s starting striker sandwiched in between.

At just 24 years of age, Balotelli should finally come of age as a professional footballer, and he will be maturing and growing into his prime years at Liverpool.

 

A Young and Driven Dressing Room at Anfield

A Young and Driven Dressing Room at Anfield

Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

 

 

In the teams he has previously played for, Balotelli was one of the most well-known, probably attracting the most controversy. Yet he was undisputedly one of the youngest stars on the team.

At Anfield, he will be playing with a group that will be hitting their peak roughly at the same time as he will—the likes of Raheem Sterling, Philippe Coutinho, Lazar Markovic, Emre Can, Alberto Moreno and Javi Manquillo, all starting options in Brendan Rodgers’ team, are all younger than Balotelli, while Daniel Sturridge, Jordan Henderson and Mamadou Sakho are all in the same age bracket.

Last season was evidence that Rodgers has cultivated a driven and confident dressing room culture at Anfield, and Balotelli will be taking to the training field every day with colleagues all eager to prove themselves as professional footballers.

With an Anfield crowd as adoring and patient towards new and young stars as they are famous for, he will know that time is on his side at Liverpool even when the world of Mario Balotelli seems to always be spinning much faster outside football.

 

He Can Concentrate on His Own Game

Upon Balotelli’s signing in late August, his agent Mino Raiola stated that his client wasn’t born to be a leader, and that he had “searched for a team where he can be an important player without being asked to lead,” according to the Daily Mail.

Often treated as the main man of AC Milan’s attack, coinciding with an alarming slide in the Serie A powerhouse’s fortunes and performances, Balotelli is also at an “all or nothing” stage at his age and period in his career, according to Raiola.

That Rodgers has actively looked to recruit leaders and club captains in his transfer business will not have been lost on Raiola or Balotelli himself, and the Italian striker will be surrounded by other vocal presences and leadership figures in the Anfield dressing room.

Raiola also stated that Steven Gerrard will protect him and allow him the freedom to concentrate on his own game, providing him a platform to excel at what he does best.

 

A Tactical Setup Allowing Him to Excel

A Tactical Setup Allowing Him to Excel

Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

 

 

And what Balotelli does best is excel as an all-round forward with strengths in almost all areas of the attacking game.

With Rodgers appearing to settle on a 4-4-2 diamond formation as his preferred setup for most weeks, Balotelli will be a regular starter alongside Sturridge with the excitingly talented Raheem Sterling supporting the attack behind them.

A Reds side coursing with pace, energy, composure and off-the-ball pressing sets a platform for a relentless attack to excel, and Sturridge has on many occasions shown that he is much more dangerous in a strike partnership than as a lone striker.

With Sturridge, Sterling and Co. providing the pace and ever-improving tactical intelligence to occupy opposition defences, Balotelli will be given the space and freedom to create and score goals.

 

Brendan Rodgers’ Tutelage

Despite records that Balotelli has enjoyed a decent strike rate so far in his professional career, critics are coming around to the fact that he is not all that potent in open play, with his composure from the penalty spot contributing to his goal tally.

Yet this is where Brendan Rodgers comes in, a manager who worked on Luis Suarez’s finishing and goal-scoring output, transforming him into one of the deadliest strikers in world football just a couple of seasons since he was derided for wasting Liverpool’s chances in Kenny Dalglish’s team.

Add to that Rodgers’ increasingly famous knack for providing the man management, motivation, technical and tactical coaching to resurrect players’ careers, turning them into potential superstars. This suddenly becomes a mouthwatering prospect for Liverpool fans.

At £16 million, an off-the-shelf Balotelli should already prove to be good value; if he thrives in the environment that Rodgers has created at Melwood and the feel-good optimism at Anfield, he might even be able to one-up his time at Manchester City.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Watch and Learn: A Day out at the Hong Kong Homeless World Cup Fundraiser

In the era of the Premier League, the Champions League, the World Cup and live television broadcasts, it’s easy to forget what football really means to those of us in Hong Kong.

There’s no shame in that. No one here really roots for China in international football—politics aside, China is as far from a footballing powerhouse as it can be, and its national football team is more likely to be an almighty embarrassment than any source of pride—and Hong Kong football just can’t compete on an international level.

That the Hong Kong Football Association is constantly trying to find ways to drum up interest in the Hong Kong Premier League despite such fanatical following of European football week in, week out, is a damning reflection of the dominance of imported football content over “real” football.

So to spend a couple of hours at the fundraising tournament for Hong Kong to send a team to the 2014 Homeless World Cup in Chile, hosted at the MacPherson Stadium in Mong Kok, was a welcome break and a reminder of the place football can, and does, have in our lives.

The ubiquity of European football—the Premier League is the king of all leagues, due to the massive influence that Britain had over Hong Kong culture and daily life during its occupation until 1997—and footballing superstars have over football fans here is always interesting and mildly amusing.

There aren’t many structured youth football programs here, probably because the fierce academic competition and rigorous education system here lends parents to send their kids off to after-school tutoring and other resume-strengthening activities rather than ferrying them to football training. So instead of any dribbling drills or passing practice, kids are out practicing free kicks and long shots in their own attempts to replicate what they see on their TV screens.

So instead of any natural interest in pickup football on the streets leading to a fanatical following of TV football, it’s actually the other way round: It’s what we see on TV that compels us to play.

Small wonder, then, that any game on the public concrete and asphalt fields usually features frequent breaks in play and generally peters out in intensity after 30 minutes: There’s no stamina or physical strength underneath the flashy tricks and occasional golazo attempts.

I myself am guilty—a frequently-used, self-deprecating yet depressingly true description is that I’m a Steven Gerrard who plays with the intensity of Dimitar Berbatov. That in itself—the yearn to score blockbusters and take set pieces but not willing to do the dog work on the pitch (or, more accurately, not willing to put in the effort to gain the stamina to do so)—is more or less indicative of the general “attachment” to football here.

Hong Kong commits itself to watching imported football rather than actually playing it.

It was both slightly amusing and mildly vindicating to find out that one of Hong Kong’s most well-known and well-regarded Cantonese football commentators, Mr. Lee Tak-nang, was not only present at the event as an emcee of sorts, but that he was the vice-chairman of the Homeless World Cup Hong Kong organizing committee. (He decided to turn up in a Brazil jersey.)

But it was the presence of another famous football name in town, and a revelation from a photographer that really hit home.

Detinho, one of the best players to play in Hong Kong in recent years—he signed for famous local club South China aged 33, proceeded to score 52 goals in 56 league games over three years, and is still going strong for Citizen—was a spectator. According to the photographer, who was also one of the organizers, “even Detinho needs to start looking for a job.”

Detinho, a household name in Hong Kong football
Detinho, a household name in Hong Kong football

 

Unlike the stars we see on TV, who boast flashy lifestyles and command weekly wages that are enough to make most people’s eyes water—even the wages of an average Premier League footballer, if managed right, mean that he can retire with financial comfort—here was Detinho, a local star by all accounts, needing to “start looking for a job.”

What about the others?

“Well, the goalkeeper is a compulsive gambler who just likes playing football.” The goalkeeper in question, of course, is the starting goalkeeper of the Hong Kong representative team that will travel to Chile for the Homeless World Cup. He’s a gambling addict, a “problematic” member of society.

Founded by Mel Young from Scotland and Harald Schmied from Austria, the Homeless World Cup had its inaugural tournament in Graz, Austria in 2003, after the idea came about at a Cape Town conference on homelessness. Hong Kong first sent its own team two years later, courtesy of the fundraising and coordination efforts of the Society of Community Organization and Wofoo Social Enterprises of Hong Kong.

The 2005 tournament saw Hong Kong send its first ever representative team to Edinburgh, after they managed to raise about HKD240,000 in funding, according to the official Homeless World Cup website. They finished 21st out of 27—just about in line with their professional counterparts.

It was evident that both the organization and the cause have come a long way: A total of 24 teams, including those from such companies as A.S. Watson Group, Konica Minolta and Bubble Yum, paid HKD15,000 each to enter the fundraising tournament on Saturday.

Many of the post-match write-ups about the fundraising event focused on Sunday instead—the event took place over the weekend at the same venue. Sunday was the more newsworthy date: Members of the Legislative Council, as well as a few celebrities, took part in an exhibition match, with controversial politician “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung featuring as one of the players. Carrie Lam, the Chief Secretary for Administration of the Hong Kong Government, gave a keynote speech highlighting the impact of homelessness in society.

But that very occurrence belied the fact that homelessness was the issue at the crux of the event, for the media and the celebrities—barring Detinho and Mr. Lee—didn’t show up on Saturday, which was when the real action took place.

Saturday was when the teams that actually paid a large sum of money took to the concrete fields and played 4-a-side. Saturday was when those 24 teams each had their own supporters—coworkers, friends et al—cheering them on the pitch, occasionally complaining and cursing (as football fans are wont to do).

It was only on Sunday when, after the qualifying rounds on Saturday, the Hong Kong representative team actually won the fundraising tournament, the first time in the fundraiser’s 10-year history.

(Edit: My original piece had Sunday down as only a “celebrity” exhibition match. I’ve since had it clarified that Sunday was the final that saw the Hong Kong team win.)

 

The Hong Kong representative team warms up on the side of the mini pitches.
The Hong Kong representative team warms up on the side of the mini pitches.

Turns out you don’t actually have to be homeless to play on a Homeless World Cup team.

I was told at the event by a few members of the organizing team, as well as a new friend who had introduced me to the event and to members of the team, that “they can’t really pick actual homeless people, just to ensure that the team does decently at the tournament.”

This was where the subsequent coverage of the fundraiser in Hong Kong and the official Homeless World Cup website seem to differ slightly: A Wall Street Journal report said that participants qualified by having been homeless at some point in the last five years, while the official tournament website seems to emphasize the “homelessness” of participating players.

 

(Edit: I’ve since had it clarified with the Homeless World Cup organizers that participating players must meet one of the following criteria:
– Have been homeless at some point after September 1, 2009, in accordance with the national definition of homelessness;
– Make their main living income as a street paper vendor;
– Asylum seekers currently without positive asylum status or who were previously asylum seekers but obtained residency status after September 1, 2009 (only two members of a team may have non-national passports; all other players must have a national passport of the nation they represent);
– Currently in drug or alcohol rehabilitation and also have been homeless at some point in the past two years

So while teams might not pick players who are currently homeless, all players on the Hong Kong team meet at least one of the above criteria. This expansion in the eligibility requirements is down to the interpretation that homelessness is the result of other vices like alcohol and drug abuse, and not the cause.)

 

In hindsight, choosing to go on the Saturday turned out to be the right decision. I didn’t return for the higher-profile Sunday, but in a strange way the lesser attention and commotion on site on Saturday meant that the focus was solely on the football and on the cause that the entire tournament supported.

For a fundraising event for a charity tournament abroad, you’d think fashion and design would be one of the lowest priorities on the day. Yet taking center stage, sandwiched right between the two mini pitches, was a row of mannequins dressed in the Hong Kong team jerseys of years past—perhaps to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Hong Kong representative team.

 

Mannequins modeling Hong Kong team jerseys for previous tournaments
Mannequins modeling Hong Kong team jerseys for previous tournaments

 

After an hour or two onsite, I started to make my way back to the bustling streets of Mong Kok and head off to my next destination via the subway. Next door to MacPherson Stadium is a favorite hangout of local youths, where street dancers, band performances and middle-aged ladies dressed in bizarre costumes singing karaoke on the sidewalk share a pedestrian-only walkway.

Right at the end of the street, there were two teenagers just beginning a football freestyle routine, complete with catchy electronic background music. I saw people come and go without much interest. It was the least-noticed and least-observed performance of the entire street.

After 15 minutes, I had to get going. The skills on the street were all well and good, but the first game of the new Premier League was kicking off in a couple of hours. I had to eat first before I could sit down and watch my football.

10 Biggest Concerns for Brendan Rodgers Ahead of Liverpool’s New Season

With a by and large successful preseason campaign behind them—a 4-0 victory over Borussia Dortmund at Anfield was the perfect way to sign off—Liverpool will be turning their sights to getting the new Premier League season off to the right start against Southampton this Sunday.

Brendan Rodgers may still be on the lookout for a few more signings before the summer transfer window slams shut, but his squad should be mostly complete, and his strongest XI mostly settled. The loss of Luis Suarez will have a big impact on the Reds, but this looks a squad much better equipped to take on a challenging season in four competitions.

But while there are many positives for Liverpool to take into the new season, there are still a few areas for concern facing Rodgers and his team—addressing these concerns and issues may be pivotal to their quest for a successful season ahead.

Here are 10 of the biggest concerns for Liverpool ahead of the new season. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Daniel Sturridge’s Fitness

Luis Suarez’s exit has put the striking spotlight almost solely on Daniel Sturridge’s shoulders, and while last season’s second-highest scorer in the Premier League has the ability to thrive even in Suarez’s absence, fitness will be the key issue.

Sturridge has a well-known track record of slight injury troubles—not major surgeries ruling him out for months at a time, but little niggles and knocks here and there that are enough to see him not complete a full season at any club in his career.

While his form during the International Champions Cup in the United States showed that there will be life after Suarez, his early return to Liverpool to nurse a slight knock will have shown the need to look after Sturridge’s fitness over the course of the season.

Which would explain Liverpool’s widely publicized move for Loic Remy, and Rodgers’ pursuit of a striker since the Remy move fell through. Relying on Sturridge’s brilliance and undoubted ability isn’t the issue; it’s relying on his relative fragility that is concerning.

Rickie Lambert’s Adjustment

It doesn’t much help that Sturridge’s backup is Rickie Lambert, who arrived earlier this summer from Southampton with the standard return-to-boyhood-club fairy-tale fanfare but has evidently struggled over preseason.

With the famous Liverpool No. 9 shirt on his back, Lambert has looked far more hesitant and lethargic—almost suggesting that he’s being weighed down by the expectations—and far from the all-round striking star he was for the Saints last season.

There’s also Fabio Borini among the striking ranks at Anfield, of course, but with his future at Liverpool uncertain and no sign of any imminent top-quality reinforcement up front, Lambert may well start the campaign as Rodgers’ first striker off the bench.

If that’s the case, he’ll have to get the seemingly sizeable monkey off his back sharpish and start showing Rodgers why he gave him the opportunity of a lifetime in the first place. Otherwise, the pressure on Sturridge and his fitness will be even stronger.

Strength and Depth Up Front

To address last season’s shortcomings, Liverpool need to strengthen their defence more than they need to replace Suarez. Yet their need for further striking reinforcement is evident.

For a team that has so many options in their attacking midfield and wide-forward lines, the Reds find themselves with only one top-class striker, which isn’t enough given the high ambitions and standards that they’ve set for themselves over the past 12 months.

The good thing is that Rodgers has the personnel and the tactical flexibility to tweak his formations and lineups in every game, but with just one striker good enough to spearhead this Reds setup, the manager will be well aware that this is an area he needs to address.

If Liverpool aim to go far in every competition they take part in this season, perhaps one signing up front isn’t enough.

Steven Gerrard’s Next Stage

Steven Gerrard’s Next Stage

 
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Besides the urgent need for an extra forward, next on Brendan Rodgers’ list of concerns might not necessarily—and has not historically—found himself anywhere near any list of concerns during his entire career, in which he has proved himself a Liverpool legend.

Yet the fact is that Steven Gerrard is not getting any younger, and the captain’s stature and influence at the club has always meant that one Liverpool manager would have to face the prospect of managing his twilight years.

That manager now is Brendan Rodgers.

And it will be tough to navigate any potential management of Gerrard’s playing time across different competitions, given his obvious importance to Liverpool fans and his teammates on the pitch—not to mention the expertise and goals he brings from set pieces and penalties, and his ability to unlock defences with a pass.

Getting his management of Gerrard’s next stage right may well define Rodgers’ legacy at Anfield.

Plugging a Large Hole in the Midfield

The issue of managing the next phase in Gerrard’s career is closely tied with the performance of the Liverpool midfield last season: At times, it was simply too easy to get past a relatively static middle of the park.

Philippe Coutinho’s added pressing and Jordan Henderson’s increased stature and presence have addressed that problem somewhat, but Liverpool’s Premier League rivals have also strengthened significantly in the midfield areas, and they will be targeting Gerrard’s growing lack of mobility and pace as a weakness in an otherwise strong-looking side.

Emre Can’s arrival and encouraging preseason displays suggests that he may be the long-term option in the holding role (or may yet mature into a box-to-box player in the mould of Yaya Toure), so Rodgers’ squad management and rotation policy will need to be spot on across different competitions.

Keeping His Center-Backs Happy

It never used to be this way: Liverpool were known for having a shortage of quality center-back options last season.

Fast forward a few months—with Dejan Lovren appearing to settle impressively and quickly and Sebastian Coates possibly playing his way back into Rodgers’ thinking—and Rodgers suddenly has a task on his hands to keep his plethora of center-backs happy and content with life at Anfield.

The starting two center-back positions will likely be filled with a combination of Martin Skrtel, Lovren and Mamadou Sakho, but behind them are Daniel Agger, Coates and Kolo Toure, while there are other reserve options waiting in the wings as well.

We’ll address Agger’s role in the next slide, but Coates has already hinted at a future away from Anfield (per the Liverpool Echo) and Toure is apparently close to a move to Trabzonspor (per the Daily Mail). If both exit the club over the next few weeks, Liverpool will once again be down to four center-back options.

Daniel Agger’s Role

Daniel Agger’s Role

 
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Of course, those four center-back options will already be a considerable upgrade over what Rodgers had at his disposal last season, but it won’t help that Daniel Agger—just a year after he was named vice-captain—now appears to be on the fringes of the first team.

Regardless of Rodgers’ claims that Agger is currently sidelined with a knee injury, which ruled him out of the friendly on Sunday against Dortmund (per the Liverpool Echo), the reality is that he started with Skrtel and Lovren, and Sakho would’ve been the first option off the bench.

Yet the Mirror reported just a few days ago that Agger broke down during a dressing-room exchange with his manager during the club’s preseason American tour, which can’t have helped their relationship or the atmosphere in the dressing room.

With Sky Sports reporting that there are no bids for Agger at the moment, Rodgers will need to arrive at an amicable resolution of the Agger situation: If he stays, he will need to manage his playing time, but if he goes, the overall depth in center-back must be addressed.

Fixing a Leaky Defence

At the heart of the center-back problem is the fact that Liverpool’s defence just wasn’t very good last season—hence the need to address its leakiness in the first place.

Lovren’s first appearance at Anfield put to bed the doubts of many vocal critics and Sakho’s performances during the World Cup showed exactly why Liverpool shelled out for his services last summer, while Javi Manquillo’s debut at right-back was also solid.

If Alberto Moreno does complete his switch from Sevilla after the UEFA Super Cup on Tuesday, as reported by the Mirror, and Rodgers does convert Lovren into a right-sided center-back, Liverpool may well start the season with an almost completely new back four from last term.

On paper, it might be a stronger set of defenders, but Rodgers still has lots of work to do if his defence is to stop conceding the goals that ultimately hurt their title challenge last year.

Simon MIgnolet’s Consistency

Behind the back four is Simon Mignolet, now the firm No. 1 at Anfield with Pepe Reina’s departure to Bayern Munich earlier this week, as reported by the Guardian.

But while Mignolet will likely concede a place to Brad Jones in the Capital One Cup and perhaps even the FA Cup, especially in the earlier stages of those competitions, the reality is that Jones has nowhere near the quality to seriously push Mignolet for a first-team place.

Wasn’t a lack of competition the same problem that was widely reported to have plagued Reina during his final average years at Anfield?

There’s no denying Mignolet’s brilliant shot-stopping ability, but his distribution still leaves a lot to be desired, while he has a few errors to cut out of his game. There’s still some way to go before he can displace Thibaut Courtois as the premier Belgian keeper in England.

Momentum vs. Freshness

With Liverpool’s long-awaited return to the Champions League comes a problem that on paper, most managers would love to have: How to manage squad rotation so momentum can be sustained, but players are still fresh every week.

Last season, the manager didn’t have this problem: Partly because he didn’t have too many options at his disposal and partly because he only had one competition to focus on for the majority of the season, Brendan Rodgers could pick a consistent starting XI week in, week out.

The flipside was that opponents could easily predict who would be starting every week and tailor their game plan to counter that (though Liverpool’s impressive 11-match winning streak was a fine answer).

This season, Rodgers has many more options to choose from every week. He will be compelled to rotate in a bid to compete on four different fronts and to keep his players motivated and match fit.

And it will be a challenge to keep his team going and on consistent runs, with possibly different lineups every week.

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Liverpool: Full Report Card for Every Position Entering Premier League Season

With their International Champions Cup campaign under their belt, Liverpool only have one final friendly—against Borussia Dortmund on Sunday—before they start their Premier League season on August 17 against Southampton.

With less than a month to go in the summer transfer window, it’s already been a productive offseason for Brendan Rodgers and his management team.

In Rickie Lambert, Emre Can, Lazar Markovic, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Divock Origi, the Reds have already brought in six players to strengthen their squad.

Other players have had the opportunity to impress (or fail to impress) the manager during their preseason tour of the United States, and as Rodgers prepares for the new season, he will be looking to make a few more additions to his first team.

So how do Liverpool look across the board? Here’s a full report card for every position entering the new campaign—assuming that they stick with the interchangeable 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 diamond formations they ended last season with. Both starting quality and bench depth will be considered in our ratings.

 

Goalkeeper: B

Goalkeeper: B

Bob Leverone/Associated Press

 

Starting Option(s): Simon Mignolet

Reserve(s): Brad Jones, Danny Ward

 

Overall Verdict

At the time of writing, Bayern Munich have confirmed, according to Simon Jones of the Daily Mail, that Pepe Reina is set to sign a contract with the Bundesliga giants, so barring any late movement, Brendan Rodgers will be starting the season with just two senior goalkeepers.

Simon Mignolet is the undisputed first choice. However, his distribution, consistency and ability to perform in the biggest games all came into question during his first season at Anfield, a debut season that went smoothly for the Belgian by and large.

But while Mignolet hasn’t shown much susceptibility to injury, it will be dangerous to go through an entire campaign with just one top-level goalkeeper. Brad Jones is inconsistent and just doesn’t possess the required quality to stand in over a period of time if needed.

With Reina seemingly out the door at Anfield, goalkeeper is not a strong position for the Reds at the moment. There isn’t an urgent acquisition need, but it’s not something to overlook either.

 

Right-Back: B-

Right-Back: B-

David Banks/Getty Images

 

Starting Option(s): Glen Johnson, Jon Flanagan

Reserve(s): Martin Kelly

 

Overall Verdict

That Glen Johnson is now generally poorly regarded by Liverpool fans for his erratic and positionally decrepit performances is well-known. But while specialist right-back Jon Flanagan impressed enough to return to the first team on the left last season, we will regard Johnson as the starting option for now.

And put simply, Johnson is a liability in the current Reds setup. His attacking forays have become less and less productive over time, while he has seemingly taken less responsibility on the defensive end as well.

Flanagan may well usurp Johnson to become Liverpool’s starting right-back over the course of the season. Martin Kelly has had ample opportunities to impress on the right over preseason, but his performances haven’t exactly caught the eye either.

According to Sky Sports, Liverpool are about to bring in Javi Manquillo from Atletico Madrid on a two-year loan, but at 20 years of age, he doesn’t come across as instant first-teamer.

Right-back is not a position to be proud of at Anfield at the moment.

 

Left-Back: B-

Left-Back: B-

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

 

Starting Option(s): Jon Flanagan

Reserve(s): Jose Enrique, Jack Robinson, Glen Johnson

 

Overall Verdict

Our verdict on the right-back situation also applies to its opposite flank, where we will assume Jose Enrique’s hesitant and inconsistent performances over preseason won’t be enough to unseat Jon Flanagan from the first-team slot he secured last season.

Yet Flanagan, while a solid defensive performer from the back, doesn’t have the imagination or creativity to transition Liverpool’s play from defence to attack, and he may be found wanting in terms of technique and pace at the highest level.

In reserve, neither Enrique nor Jack Robinson have the nous or ability to become a star at Anfield. Curiously, the Reds’ strongest reserve left-back may be Glen Johnson, who has performed admirably in that position but has suffered a massive dip in form over the past year.

Fortunately, Liverpool’s impending signing of Alberto Moreno—if Simon Jones’ report in the Daily Mail is to be believed—will, unlike Manquillo, add genuine quality to the left flank. Much of our verdict hinges on this transfer—Moreno would bring a real upgrade.

 

Center-Back: B+

Center Back: B+

Mike Stobe/Getty Images

 

Starting Option(s): Martin Skrtel, Mamadou Sakho, Dejan Lovren

Reserve(s): Daniel Agger, Sebastian Coates, Kolo Toure

 

Overall Verdict

Whether Liverpool play a flat four at the back or switch to a 3-5-2 (or any variant), the fact that they have three players of starting quality—four if we count Daniel Agger—is a boon to the defence.

The question is how Brendan Rodgers decides to choose from his center back options.

Dejan Lovren’s visa mix-up held him back at Liverpool when he was due to join up with his new teammates in the U.S. And that could hold him back in terms of a starting position at the beginning of the season, such was the form of Mamadou Sakho during the ICC.

Yet we’ve all seen from last season that Martin Skrtel, despite having improved his goal return, is still capable of glaring errors at the highest level, which means that a central-defensive partnership of Lovren and Sakho is the strongest pairing on paper.

Our B+ grade hinges on whether Rodgers manages to successfully convert Lovren into a right-sided center back. If he does, Lovren may yet turn out to be an excellent acquisition. If he doesn’t, that would be a costly mistake—in every sense of the term.

 

Holding Midfielder: B+

Holding Midfielder: B+

Mike Stobe/Getty Images

 

Starting Option(s): Steven Gerrard, Emre Can

Reserve(s): Joe Allen, Jordan Henderson, Lucas

 

Overall Verdict

One represents a legendary figure at Anfield; the other a bright future and a symbol of what Brendan Rodgers is trying to achieve with Liverpool.

So will it be Steven Gerrard or Emre Can who starts the season in the holding-midfield role? That is the tricky question that Rodgers will face—and not just over the start of the season.

It hasn’t been the best of years for Gerrard, given his involvement in Liverpool’s relinquishing of first place to Manchester City and his overexposure in the midfield for England in the Brazil World Cup, yet his vision, passing and set pieces are still valuable assets for the team.

What Rodgers needs to resolve is whether he can keep Gerrard in the team and ask his other two midfielders to support him defensively, or whether this is the season that sees Gerrard slowly phased out of the first team to make way for a new generation.

Can’s excellent displays over preseason will only have added to Rodgers’ selection headache.

 

Central Midfielder: A

Central Midfielder: A

Mike Stobe/Getty Images

 

Starting Option(s): Jordan Henderson, Emre Can, Philippe Coutinho, Joe Allen

Reserve(s): Adam Lallana, Steven Gerrard, Lucas, Joao Carlos Teixeira, Suso

 

Overall Verdict

It might not be an all-star midfield like Manchester City’s or Chelsea’s, but Liverpool’s options in the middle of the park are of excellent quality—and just at the right age to eventually mature into star status.

Jordan Henderson’s rise to prominence under Brendan Rodgers will not have gone unnoticed, and an excellent preseason campaign will only have boosted his confidence going into the new season.

Emre Can’s exciting cameos have shown his versatility and ability to play in different positions across the midfield as well, which will come in handy over the course of the season.

Philippe Coutinho’s conversion from a more attacking No. 10 role to a more complete No. 8 has come about smoothly, a testament to both the player and his manager. His vision, technique, turn of pace and newfound tenacity will add creativity and flair to a hardworking midfield.

So the likeliest casualty at the moment looks to be Joe Allen, whose stop-start preseason didn’t do him any favors toward a regular first-team place. But with Liverpool fighting on four different fronts, Rodgers will need options at his disposal—and he has got plenty.

 

Attacking Midfielder: A

Attacking Midfielder: A

Mike Stobe/Getty Images

 

Starting Option(s): Philippe Coutinho, Adam Lallana, Raheem Sterling, Lazar Markovic

Reserve(s): Jordan Henderson, Steven Gerrard, Suso, Joao Carlos Teixeira

 

Overall Verdict

If the central midfield is encouraging for Liverpool fans, the attacking midfield should at least be as exciting, if not more so.

This is a squad brimming with talent going forward, and having four first-team options is perfect evidence.

Coutinho’s aforementioned conversion to a deeper-lying role doesn’t rule him out from a more conventional No. 10 role. In fact, it was from there that he did some of his most excellent work over preseason.

Raheem Sterling has shown his tactical intelligence in his own conversion from an out-and-out attacker to a more complete role behind the striker.

Lazar Markovic’s 45-minute preseason cameo before his injury meant that Reds fans had to wait to see more of his much-hyped ability in action, but all the signs were that he could, over time, thrive in this role. Adam Lallana may currently be out injured, but he will inject more quality when he returns.

We won’t forget that Henderson has played as the most advanced midfielder in Rodgers’ team to great effect last season, while Suso and Joao Carlos Teixeira are also excellent technical options in reserve to field in cup competitions.

This is an excellent group of hot prospects with their best years ahead of them.

 

Right Forward: A-

Attacking Midfielder: A

Mike Stobe/Getty Images

 

Starting Option(s): Philippe Coutinho, Adam Lallana, Raheem Sterling, Lazar Markovic

Reserve(s): Jordan Henderson, Steven Gerrard, Suso, Joao Carlos Teixeira

 

Overall Verdict

If the central midfield is encouraging for Liverpool fans, the attacking midfield should at least be as exciting, if not more so.

This is a squad brimming with talent going forward, and having four first-team options is perfect evidence.

Coutinho’s aforementioned conversion to a deeper-lying role doesn’t rule him out from a more conventional No. 10 role. In fact, it was from there that he did some of his most excellent work over preseason.

Raheem Sterling has shown his tactical intelligence in his own conversion from an out-and-out attacker to a more complete role behind the striker.

Lazar Markovic’s 45-minute preseason cameo before his injury meant that Reds fans had to wait to see more of his much-hyped ability in action, but all the signs were that he could, over time, thrive in this role. Adam Lallana may currently be out injured, but he will inject more quality when he returns.

We won’t forget that Henderson has played as the most advanced midfielder in Rodgers’ team to great effect last season, while Suso and Joao Carlos Teixeira are also excellent technical options in reserve to field in cup competitions.

This is an excellent group of hot prospects with their best years ahead of them.

 

Left Forward: A+

Left Forward: A

Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

 

Starting Option(s): Adam Lallana, Lazar Markovic, Raheem Sterling, Philippe Coutinho

Reserve(s): Jordon Ibe, Daniel Sturridge

 

Overall Verdict

If the right forward position is exciting, then left forward is truly scintillating. Four Premier League-ready forwards in place with two exciting prospects make for a stacked left prong.

It was on the left, of course, that Sterling started his career at Anfield, cutting in on his right foot, while Coutinho has also won rave reviews with his excellent performances out on the left flank, where his pace and vision can be devastatingly effective.

Markovic’s addition means that Liverpool possess a relatively unknown X-factor among their ranks on the left, but if Sterling and Coutinho are used in other starting positions, Markovic may well be Rodgers’ starting left forward at the start of the season.

With Jordon Ibe showing encouraging form over preseason and Sturridge also capable of playing on the left, Adam Lallana will not be looking forward to wrestling back a starting place on the left when he returns from injury.

 

Striker: B+

Striker: B+

Mike Stobe/Getty Images

 

Starting Option(s): Daniel Sturridge

Reserve(s): Rickie Lambert, Raheem Sterling

 

Overall Verdict

Make no mistake: Luis Suarez’s exit has left a 31-goal hole in the Reds attack. And without a versatile, all-round striker like Suarez, Liverpool are unmistakably weaker up front—not to mention shorter in depth.

Daniel Sturridge is an excellent striker leading the line for the Reds, but his first campaign as Anfield’s leading man will heap lots of pressure on his shoulders. This will be a season where he wants to be fully fit for most of the year—something he hasn’t consistently achieved over the course of his career.

At present, while Liverpool are clearly still on the hunt for another striker, Rickie Lambert is the only senior specialist striker available for selection, and his lumbering and uninspiring performances over preseason mean that he will likely need some time to fully bed in.

Leaving Sterling—not a specialist striker but versatile enough to play further forward perhaps in the long run—the only other realistic option.

It’s a slight blip in an otherwise strong midfield and forward core, but a blip that must be addressed if Liverpool hope to achieve something this season.

 

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.

 

 

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

 

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.

 

 

Scott Heppell/Associated Press

 

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.

 

 

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

 

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.