Just when Liverpool were about to get Daniel Sturridge back from a month-long injury, bad news came, confirming that he’ll be out for at least three more weeks and maybe more. A team that almost won the Premier League last season is struggling to string two wins together, let alone look like title contenders as the season continues to slip away from them.
The top 4 isn’t running away. Except for Chelsea, no one has been consistent enough to create separation. This means that Liverpool with just 10 points after 7 matches are only one point behind fourth place. It’s all quite open to every possibility. But the ability, scoring form and general atmosphere surrounding the club’s performances aren’t exactly hinting at a positive process at Anfield.
In hindsight, obviously the sale of Luis Suarez was the wrong decision. Liverpool haven’t seemed like an upgraded team with the money made from that transaction, even if a lot of it was put to use with the future in mind, not just the now. But the Brendan Rodgers system relies on having two forwards, with at least one of them a very mobile one who has no problem moving to the wings or even dropping back in order to help out the attacking midfield.
Suarez is a unique player. He can be a target man, winger, supporting striker and even attacking midfielder, all at once. He solves tactical problems or certain weaknesses on a team. Sturridge isn’t that good or versatile, but he’s more than just a poacher or box scorer. He is quick enough to make moves on the wing and is a good enough passer to be a set up man and not just wait for someone to do the job for him.
Signing Mario Balotelli, professionally, was a good move. But unlike the Italian national team or his time with AC Milan, Balotelli doesn’t work as a lone striker in Liverpool’s system. Maybe it has more to do with how badly this season has gone for Philippe Coutinho and Lazar Markovic, not providing the creative spark from behind or the left side, and often looking like the weak link on the pitch, each of them in his own turn.
Liverpool were willing to ride out the first patch of the Sturridge injury, and their win over West Brom, following a mostly positive display against Everton that ended in a frustrating draw pointed the team in the right direction. But something’s missing, and unless there’s some special click in the midfield, which means that playing Raheem Sterling as a second striker suddenly works, Liverpool are headed into another frustrating month with too many problems on the attacking side of the ball.
No one expected a championship run last year but it happened. No one expected a championship run this season, but being in contention at this point of the season was a bit closer to earlier predictions. At least looking like a top 4 team. But Liverpool are hampered because just one player can’t seem to get back to health. Rodgers has lost some faith from the outside in his tactical know-how and ingenuity, and if he doesn’t find the answer to the missing goals and firepower up front, or simply watch his players figure out the problem themselves, he’s headed for another rocky month, and a disappointing finish to this season.