Despite the enthusiasm, Raheem Sterling doesn’t create another SAS partnership with Daniel Sturridge. Liverpool, as their second half of an opening win clearly showed, need another striker to make their best formation work. Rickie Lambert might not be the best solution, but for now he’s the best solution for a dual-striker partnership the club has.
Fabio Borini is also still in the squad, but he seems to be on his way out, not sitting on the bench in the 2-1 win over Southampton. Liverpool started out with a clear 4-5-1 formation, as Sturridge worked alone up front. Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho were the more attacking midfielders, almost supporting strikers at times. Jordan Henderson, Steven Gerrard and Lucas were behind.
For about 30-35 minutes, it worked well. Maybe it was enthusiasm, maybe it was smart movement from the players. Whatever it was, Liverpool completely dominated the middle of the pitch against a brand new Southampton team that looked a bit confused and got their goal from a delightful Jordan Henderson feed to Raheem Sterling. After the goal, everything changed.
Maybe it was Ronald Koeman making the right changes, while Dusan Tadic and James Ward-Prowse started showing their abilities, but it was also Liverpool looking very slow with the ball, Sturridge often positioned too wide to make any influential plays while the defensive midfield, with Lucas at the head of it, looked to be in shambles, putting pressure on the centre backs, eventually leading to the equalizer.
It’s 2014, and Glen Johnson, along with Lucas Leiva, are still in the lineup. Martin Skrtel probably shouldn’t be there as well, but he isn’t a damaging presence like the other two. The moment Joe Allen came on the pitch things started looking better because Liverpool had someone in the back pushing the ball forward and not through long balls, with all due respect to Steven Gerrard, who should have been mixing it up a little bit more.
The biggest transformation came when Lambert came on for a disappointing Coutinho. Liverpool went to that diamond shape that worked so well for them last season, and it seemed like a goal was only a matter of time, and so it was. They almost conceded again on the other end, but luck and Simon Mignolet with a fantastic performance, maybe showing how much he has improved over the summer, were on their side.
Brendan Rodgers liked to tinker with his tactics and formations. He likes to have other options than just the one that works. However, with Lucas in the lineup it’s hard to see anything really working to its fullest capacity, and another problem that came up quite a bit last season was the team losing focus and intent after going up in the first half, leading to some tense moments in the final 45 minutes.