January 31st, 2011 – A date which all Liverpool fans would like to forget. Fernando Torres – one of the club’s most loved players had handed in a transfer request for a move to Premier League rivals Chelsea. Liverpool acceded to the player’s demands and Torres made his way to Stamford Bridge after smashing the British Transfer Record. Having received £50 million from the sale of their star striker, Kenny Dalglish and Damien Comolli decided to break some transfer records of their own. £35 million was splurged on Andy Carroll from Newcastle. It was the highest transfer amount ever paid for a British player and also the highest amount that Liverpool had spent on any player in its history.
Andy Carroll had started his Premier League career brightly but had only 6 months of top flight experience. The then 22-year old sustained an injury in December 2010, which delayed his Liverpool debut till March, 2011. Liverpool’s new No. 9 found life difficult at Anfield and could not manage to hold down a regular starting berth under Kenny Dalglish. Carroll was also guilty of missing several scoring opportunities when playing and could only manage to score 6 goals over 44 appearances for the club in 2 years. With the arrival of Brendan Rodgers last summer, Carroll’s career at Anfield seemed to be all but over. Liverpool’s new manager preferred to have fast mobile forwards who could interchange amongst themselves. Carroll didn’t fit the bill and Liverpool’s No. 9 was sent on loan to West Ham this season to ensure first team football for the player.
One of the main reasons from Carroll’s failure at the club is that he simply didn’t fit into Liverpool’s style of play which was tailor-made to get the best out of Fernando Torres; A player who relied on pace and movement to get his goals. Carroll, on the other hand, was used to being the focal point of the attack at Newcastle. The Geordie striker used his height and powerful frame to win a large amount of headers in the penalty area.
Playing Carroll, thus resulted in the team sometimes being caught in between two styles. Luis Suarez, who also signed on transfer deadline day in January wasn’t a typical centre forward but seemed to revel in Liverpool’s pass and move philosophy. However, Carroll’s inclusion often resulted in the team resorting to hopeful crosses from the wings and deep midfield.
In the absence of an established centre forward in the side following the departure of Andy Carroll, Brendan Rodgers decided to use Luis Suarez in a ‘false 9’ role. Suarez excelled in the role and is now just a goal shy of being the top scorer in the Premier League. Using his game intelligence and dribbling skills, Suarez often dragged defenders out of position and carved out goal several scoring opportunities. However, against well drilled sides which choose to sit deep and defend, Liverpool have struggled to score goals. Suarez has been in sublime form but he has had to shoulder an overbearing portion of the goal scoring responsibility for Liverpool.
Through the course of the season, the team has played well in patches but the lack of firepower up front has been evident. The injury to Fabio Borini only compounded the problem and Liverpool found themselves with just one recognised striker for large parts of the season.
With the arrival of Daniel Sturridge in January, Liverpool suddenly looks more potent. Sturridge’s skill, power and searing pace in the attacking third has given a whole new dimension to Liverpool’s attack. Liverpool’s No. 15 has already struck up a good understanding with Luis Suarez and the strike partnership is blossoming. Since Torres’ departure, Liverpool has sorely lacked a quality centre forward who can stretch opposition defenders with pace and power. Daniel Sturridge could finally be the answer to those problems.
Sturridge and Suarez have been able to effectively interchange positions throughout the game making it extremely difficult for defenders to man mark the duo. While defenders have been able to double up on Suarez in previous games, the presence of Sturridge as an extra man in the penalty area gives Suarez more space and time to create havoc. Suarez was devastating in the 5-0 demolition of Swansea City and notched up a goal and two assists over the course of the match. This was largely possible due to the precious extra few fractions of a second offered by a defence which was being dragged out of shape by the intelligent movement of Sturridge, Downing and Coutinho.
Sturridge’s best game in a Liverpool shirt so far came against his old club Manchester City. The 23 year old was a constant threat to the Citizens and gave Liverpool a real attacking outlet. Sturridge spent almost 43% of the match playing inside or just outside the opposition penalty area. The 6ft. 2in. striker did an excellent job in holding up the ball, allowing other goal scoring threats, like Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard, to join in the attack. Sturridge also drifted wide on several occasions throughout the game allowing the likes of Suarez and Henderson to run into the space created. Sturridge’s influence meant that Liverpool were able to dominate the English Champions at their home ground for large parts of the game. It was only due to some poor decision making from Reina and a sublime finish from Aguero which denied the Merseyside club all 3 points.
Sturridge has already become an important cog in Liverpool’s attack and his presence in the side allows the 3 attacking players behind him more space and freedom on the ball. Sturridge’s power and pace also allows Liverpool much more penetration in their attack. The 2-0 home defeat to West Brom highlighted Liverpool’s problems without Sturridge in the side. Steve Clark set his side up to sit deep and play as compact as possible. The Baggies played with discipline and pressed high up the pitch to stifle the supply to Liverpool’s attacking players. With Suarez roaming and Sturridge out through injury, Liverpool failed to penetrate into the opposition penalty area. Liverpool enjoyed 56% of the possession but only 5.89% of the match was played in West Brom’s penalty area. Liverpool had several shots but most of them were from outside the box which were either off target or were blocked by defenders.
In contrast, Liverpool’s game against Manchester City shows how 13.08% of the total play was inside City’s penalty area. Sturridge managed to play the centre forward’s role to perfection and was effective at involving other Liverpool players. Suarez and Sturridge interchanged positions regularly making it nightmarish for defenders. Downing and Henderson too were heavily involved and Gerrard managed to join the attack on several occasions as well. It is still early days and Sturridge has only begun his career at Liverpool, but the difference he makes to the side is already apparent.
Brendan Rodgers has switched from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1 formation in recent weeks. A system which Liverpool played regularly under the Benitez era and one in which Torres flourished in. Alonso dictated play from the deep while Gerrard and Torres dovetailed to form a devastating strike partnership. With Gerrard now playing in central midfield and Suarez taking up the second strikers’ role, the stage is set for Sturridge to replicate Torres’ brilliance at Anfield. With 4 goals in 5 games in league already, the Englishman seems well on his way.
The striker has displayed a lot of intelligence in his games so far and his understanding with other players especially Suarez has been exemplary. There have been no signs of selfishness that he has been previously accused of and his link up play with other players has been key to Liverpool enjoying so much possession high up the pitch.
Sturridge has displayed some good vision and has picked out some important passes to find his teammates in scoring positions. Sturridge finally seems to have found a club which is willing to offer him the opportunity to showcase his talent. A victim of club politics and managerial changes at his previous clubs, Sturridge seems to be enjoying his football and is growing in confidence with each game. The striker is hungry to prove himself and is desperate to score goals for the club. The signs bode well for the future. Sturridge’s faltering career may finally be taking off at Liverpool. Only time will tell whether he can reach the dizzying levels of the man he was bought to replace.